[Review] – The Big Book of Blasphemy

Edited by Regina Garza Mitchell and David G. Barnett

This will be my last anthology for a while, as there are none left on my to-read pile.  This one comes all the way from Sanford Florida’s Necro Publications.
Anthologies are tough to assess, as they are made of separate, individual pieces but I will try.  There are 30 stories in here, and my absolute favorites are these four:

“Scriptures” by Edward Lee.  Not surprisingly gross fun from the master
“Jesus or Jacob?” by Ali Seay.  A heartbreaker
“Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth” by Ray Garton.  One of my favorite stories from Garton.
“Selling Salvation” by Ryan Harville.  One of the few writers in the anthology that I’d never heard of.  But that’s the beauty of these right?

I’ve said before that most anthologies don’t work for me because of the presence of “filler stories.”  This anthology avoids this pitfall (mostly).  I’d say that at least half of the stories are really top tier stuff.  Although there are a few stories that lower the overall quality of the whole, I’m really tempted to grade this one on a curve because it was definitely one of the better anthologies that I read last year.  I’m impressed with quite a few new-to-me writers in here and I will be looking out for further releases from these writers. These would include:  Ali Seay, Ryan Harville, Jacqueline Mitchell, Matthew Warner, and Eddie Generous.  I’ve got my eye on you!

Grade:  C

Review by Jason Cavallaro
jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

I received this book from the publisher for review consideration.

[Review] – Lullabies For Suffering

Edited by Mark Matthews

If you haven’t really considered it before, consider it now: addiction is pure horror.

Prior to Lullabies For Suffering, I thought of addiction as a staple ingredient in literary drama; horror hadn’t really occurred to me. After reading this collection, it seems like such an obvious overlook on my part. How did I ever miss it? Addiction is pure horror. It manipulates and twists and breaks a person. It destroys their world, makes it something else, dark and starving. Lullabies For Suffering captures these feelings (and more) with competence and ease. The six stories contained within will make you reposition, twitch, and wince. It’s as much an uncomfortable experience as it is chaotically poetic. Honest and gut-wrenching, these stories tell a warning, one that many cannot find themselves to heed.

“Sometimes They See Me” is a ride through euphoria at times, but ultimately unnerving and cracked as a whole. Its conclusion is unique and artistic. It leaves the reader with a dull ache, something becoming familiar with me and Burke’s work.

“Monsters” introduces me to Kepnes in short form for the first time, and while it feels a little cockeyed at times in its storytelling, the narratives are personal and well-developed. You’re not going to get a contestor to You, but this is also clearly a Kepnes story (which is a wonderful thing on its own).

“Lizard” – written by the editor of this collection, Mark Matthews – is probably the deepest entry, with tragic character development and a feeling of full-arc in its telling.

“The Melting Point of Meat” was probably the most disturbing and bizarre story, but in a good way. It frequently made me cringe and exhale stilted breaths. Being new to Taff, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the cosmic conclusion was as awesome as it was weird.

“Beyond the Reef” and “Love is a Crematorium” both felt a little weak at times, but were also ripe with possibilities. Despite the issues I had with these two entries, there were still some excellent theatrics and drama to be found. None of the work in this collection failed.

Ultimately, Lullabies For Suffering delivers time and again. There’s a lot to fear in these stories and a lot to learn. Rarely do you come across a collection so well-versed in its life lessons and realistic horrors.

Review by Aiden Merchant
Twitter: @AidenMerchant89

I received a copy from the editor for review consideration.

[Review] – A Cosmology of Monsters

By Shaun Hamill

A Cosmology of Monsters transforms the reader into a perpetual page turning instrument. By means of originality in story telling, complex under layers, smooth transitions from one perspective and time period to the next, prose, and use of well-known monsters…is this list not enough to convince you to read this book yet? Alrighty. Let’s move on to other reasons why this should be on your TBR pile.

Hamill and COSMOLOGY feel like classics. He, a novelist that students research for projects, and Cosmology, a story that tells you that horror can be so many things to so many different people. Yet, this is his debut novel!

This story is about a family of five (dad, mom, two daughters, and the youngest, Noah), haunted houses, monsters, and a lurking undertone of Lovecraft. The Turner family dedicates their lives to scaring people, and just like any family, they aren’t perfect…by a long shot. It felt like a biography of the Turner family. It was in-depth with each family member, but not to the point where it dragged and slowed down.

Our protagonist, Noah, like any good character, is complicated. I could see myself being friends with him. As far as his decisions go, I don’t think I would have reacted the same as him in many of the situations, but isn’t that what good stories do? They help us understand other people. They help us understand the strange. They help to dissect ourselves and the labyrinths in our, and other people’s, minds. Also, like Noah, some of us don’t feel comfortable in our own skin. We don’t like our outer appearance for one reason or another. This is something that Noah constantly battles with throughout Cosmology.

What I found most interesting about this book is the line it consistently walked on. It’s horror. It’s a love letter to H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a head nod to the pulp magazine era. It’s an appreciation for the evolution of horror throughout the 20th century. It’s a great example of what a hybrid story should feel and read like. It isn’t full of gore. It’s not full of vulgarity (two things, to me, that make it appropriate for a younger audience as much as an older). And you can make a good case of it being literary fiction.

Here’s the best part of the book. You don’t have to be a fan of Lovecraft. You don’t have to be a horror fan. You don’t even have to be a fan of monsters. You just have to be a fan of good stories. This is about people. But, more importantly, at the end of the day, some of us are monsters…and some of us blur the line of the two.

Amazon link for A Cosmology of Monsters

Review by Patrick R. McDonough

Patzilla13@hotmail.com
Twitter: @Prmcdonough

I received a copy from the publisher for review consideration.

[Review] – Cricket Hunters

By Jeremy Hepler

I’m going to be upfront about this – I feel a little conflicted about this book. It’s not bad, the writing is really good, but there were unfortunately some elements I disliked, but we’ll get into that.

Cricket Hunters is told in two parts, alternating between the past and the present to tell the story of Cel and her friends. As teenagers, they formed the Cricket Hunters, hunting down the insects bothering her great-aunt at the request of Cel’s grandmother. Twelve years later, Cel’s husband Parker, a fellow Hunter, disappears. Cel must confront her past and present, including the disappearance of former friend Abby, as the town and Parker’s family turn against her, certain she had something to do with Parker’s disappearance.

Starting with plot, it was good and solid, and I like the way it unfolds through past and present. It’s a technique I love, and Hepler does it well. It’s always interesting to see where these characters start, compared to the present-day situations, and how they grow into their adult selves.

The novel also contained a lot of mystery and tension, especially surrounding the disappearances. However, one twist was a little obvious, as I worked it out quite early on, but it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the book. The thrill came, really, from seeing how things unfolded more than the actual end result.

Now, the characters. Cel was an interesting character, strong and formidable, and a woman who has been through a hell of a lot. However, it was hard to see why, exactly, she was with Parker, beyond her teenage desire. Parker is, to put it bluntly, a shit. Abusive, cruel, and with absolutely no regard for anyone’s feelings but his own. I wasn’t quite sure if, at points, we were supposed to feel sorry for him or not, but when it was his viewpoint chapters I mostly found myself rolling my eyes.

Some of the more supporting cast could have been written better. The rocky friendship between Abby and Cel could have been explored a bit more. And look, I get it, teenage girls fight over boys, and it does affect friendships, deeply, but this all felt a little like the blame was put on the girls for being naïve, than Parker, for playing them off one another. This wasn’t just in the past chapters but in the present ones, too.

For some other characters outside these three, it felt like there was just a little too much. For some other characters outside these three, it felt like there was just a little too much emphasis on characters’ – especially women’s – weight, and some elements of slut-shaming, somewhat dampening my enjoyment of the novel. Combined with the fact that most of the women’s relationships in the novel are defined by men, and many of the interactions between different women were them fighting over men.

But, and this is important, the ending, in many ways, redeemed the novel. Like I said, I kind of guessed at one particular twist. The other earlier reveal had me trying to work it out right until the end, and it wasn’t what I expected. Both twists were done well, and really made sense considering what had come before. The ending also showed what sort of lengths women need to go to in order to protect themselves, and how men are more than capable of destroying lives through obsession and desire.

Overall, Hepler is clearly a good writer, and though I disliked some elements of the novel, for the most part I really enjoyed it, especially Cel’s character and her relationship with her grandmother, and their use of rituals. It never dipped too much into the more supernatural elements, but remained grounded in reality. I think that worked for the story being told. And the novel also brings up discussions surrounding bigotry and the way people are treated, especially by those who see them as different. I think these are really important discussions to have, and again, were handled in a really good way.

3.5 Stars
Amazon link for Cricket Hunters

Review by Elle Turpitt
elleturpitt@gmail.com
Twitter: @elleturpitt

I received an e-copy of this book for review consideration.

Best of 2019 Dead Head Reads

Below are a few Dead Heads’ best of list. Not all lists contain books published in 2019.

My name is Jason. I read 131 books this year, and these were my ten favorites. Ranked too…because I like headaches and indecision apparently.

10:  The Best of the Scream Factory. This is a reference book from Cemetery Dance pub.  A must have for anyone obsessed with horror fiction.

9:  In the Scrape by James Newman and Mark Steensland. Quality coming-of-age story told in only 104 pages.

8:  The Pale White by Chad Lutzke. If Chad doesn’t make my top ten in a given year, it’s probably because he didn’t publish anything.

7:  Some Kind of Hero by James Kirkwood. Really unique, character-driven war novel.

6:  The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Not horror, but great books transcend genre.

5:  Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah. Yep, her again. Don’t hate.

4:  They Say a Girl Died Here Once by Sarah Pinborough. My current favorite writer.

3:  Rotters by Daniel Kraus. Totally unique coming-of-age story about grave robbing.

2:  The Murder of Jesus Christ by John R Little. Possibly the best book from one of my favorite writers.

* drum roll *

1:  Penpal by Dathan Auerbach. I know, I know. This was published in 2012, so I’m late to the party. In any case, this may actually be the creepiest book I’ve ever read.  Auerbach is so good at creating dread and paranoia that I put the book down a few times just to savor it. Maybe this one isn’t for everyone, but I do think that every horror fiction fan should give it a shot. Just in case.

Happy 2020 everyone! 

Best of by Jason Cavallaro
jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

***

In 2019, I set a goal to read 25 books and surpassed that goal for 35+! I enjoyed all but 4 of those 35 books immensely. Here are 10 of my favorite reads from this year in no particular order:

  1. We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Horror/Fiction)
    Now a Netflix original, this classic is narrated by the character Merricat. Detailing her reclusive life with her sister Constance, eccentric Uncle Julian, and cousin Charles, and the aftermath of a family tragedy 6 years prior.
  1. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Fiction) *Content Warning
    A dark, mysterious novel centering around a Nigerian named The Ada, centered around “The self-search”, dysphoria, and mental illness; narrated by multiple perspectives of spirits/voices residing in The Ada’s body.
  1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Science Fiction)
    The first in a series of Sci-Fi Novellas centering on the heroine Binti, 1st of the Himba people to study at Oomza University, as she finds her place in life and the universe.
  1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (Horror/Fiction)
    A suspense-thriller from the perspective of an unnamed narrator and their boyfriend Jake.  Following along as the couple drives through a snowstorm on the way to an uncomfortable dinner with the narrator’s family and mystery unfolds. Coming soon to Netflix.
  1. The Laws of the Skies by Gregoire Courtois (Horror/Fiction) *Content Warnin
    “Lord of the Flies” meets “Battle Royale” in this tale following the harrowing camping trip of a Kindergarten class. Yes, you read that right.
  1. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski (Thriller/Fiction) *Content Warning
    Honestly, this book has such a presence in the Literary Community I don’t feel right trying to give it a one sentence summary so I’ll only say this: Minotaur. Soon to be a television series (maybe.)
  1. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (Horror/Fiction)
    Follows an American Family as they put their lives on display for reality TV.  Told from the perspective of younger sister Merry as she chronicles the stress of living through some harrowing, strained family dynamic surrounding her mentally ill sister Marjorie. Reminiscent of classic films such as  The Exorcist.
  1. The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Drama/Fiction) *Content Warning
    An English language translation of South Korean novellas following the lives of sisters Yeong-Hye and In-Hye and exploring concepts of life as a woman in SK, personal autonomy, and the dark side of human nature.
  1. Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha (Romance/Science Fiction) Adults Only
    This dystopian Sci-Fi Romance, penned by a BFF-Author-Duo known as the singular “Kit Rocha”, is raunchy, dirty, pervy, and clever. A hard, very hard no pun intended, M for Mature on sexual content. #okaneforlife
  1. Conscious Creativity by Philippa Stanton (Non-Fiction/Creativity)
    A beautiful collection of anecdotes, exercises, and imagery to help foster your personal art/craft, and foster a desire to employ creative practices in daily life.

*Content Warning: stories contain extreme sexual content, violence, abuse, assault, rape, and/or drug use.

Best of by Ellen Angiliano
thejackalopeswarren@gmail.com
Twitter: @thejackalopes.warren

***

2019 we barely knew ye, and yet the bell tolls for thee. Alan Baxter dished up his collection Served Cold, and took me to places far and near with one thing in common – they’re places I love to read about but I wouldn’t want to visit. Laurel Hightower made the dead come to life with her stand-out debut, Whispers in the Dark. With only one novel under her belt, she has become an absolute favorite author. Mark Steensland and James Newman brought me Into the Scrape, collaborating on an intense and unforgettable coming-of-age story. This is a book that I had no problem putting up alongside classics such as McCammon’s Boy’s Life

Chad Lutzke broke my heart with The Pale White, and then did his able best to put the pieces back together. This is a gorgeously presented female coming-of-age story, something I expect we’ll be seeing more of within the genre. John F.D. Taff filled my reading life with all the things that go bump in the night, all at once. The Fearing might be the most ambitious thing I read this year, and it consistently fired on all cylinders. 

Chuck Wendig’s epic novel Wanderers engrossed me for every bit of its 800 page running time. It’s a very timely book that despite its length deserves, and will certainly get, reread. Dear Laura, by Gemma Amor, was a treat of a novella that invested me in the lead character’s journey from childhood all the way through to her adult years. Everything she went through dug it’s claws deep into my psyche and left me raw after putting it down. 

Stephanie Evelyn’s debut novel The Cult Called Freedom House kicked off Sophia Rey’s story with an enthusiastic bang. Another debut novel that simply clicks because the author poured heart and soul aplenty into it. The stories I found inside Kealan Patrick Burke’s We Live Inside Your Eyes are generally bleak and dreadful. The prose Burke used brought them to life, and the novella with which it culminated is worth the price of admission. This list would be utterly incomplete without remembering John Boden’s Walk the Darkness Down and the way it used the western genre, mixed it with horror, and told us a story that could not have possibly have grown in the imagination of any other author. 2019 was a year of discovery for me, and all signs points toward 2020 being a showcase for all the bright and shining stars this genre has to offer. 

Best of by Brennan LaFaro
brennan.lafaro@gmail.com
Twitter: @whathappensnex5Blog

***

The Festering Ones

Will Haunt You

We Live Inside Your Eyes

Inspection

The Same Deep Water As You

Best of by Garrett Witt
garrettwitt7@gmail.com
Twitter: @reviewshead

***

In 2019, I found or re-discovered five books that I still think about on an almost daily basis. Not all of them are horror, but each offers something unique that you don’t encounter everyday!

The Changeling – Victor LaValle

I’ve recommended this book to everyone I can since I put it down in the early Spring. It’s so hard to summarize this book, because it seems to actively defy summation. At its most basic, the story is about Apollo as his life unravels after his wife Emma commits a horrific, violent act and vanishes. The book reads like a fairy tale mixed with memory with horror elements.

Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix

A horror comedy novel about a haunted Ikea knockoff store, what’s not to love? Amy is stuck in a dead-end job at ORSK, and her gung-ho manager Basil has her and another employee spend the night in the store. Such a simple premise, but things quickly escalate. I highly recommend reading a physical copy of this, as it looks like an Ikea catalog complete with illustrations that add to the humor.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service – Eiji Otsuka (Writer), Housui Yamazaki (Illustrator)

This manga series is, at its core, a story of millennials who are educated and underemployed. Oh, and they also happen to have talents that make them especially skilled when dealing with corpses. The artwork is incredible and often grotesque, and the setting is contemporary Japan, which means that the characters are interacting with issues that plague real people. College admission stress, grief, infanticide, surgery to look more perfect, and more.

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

I had initially read this in high school, but when Toni Morrison passed away this year, I picked it up again. It’s not an easy read, but then again that’s why I’m putting it on this list. This was her first novel, published at age 39. The focus is on the realities of African-American life during the 1940s, external and internalized racism, violence, and so many other topics. The title comes from the main character, Pecola, and her wish for blue eyes like the white dolls she received as gifts.

Our Dreams at Dusk – Yuhki Kamatani (Writer/Illustrator, They/Them)

This may be the first manga I’ve ever encountered where a trans person is writing and illustrating from their own experiences. Kamatani is asexual and X-gendered, and you see that perspective reflected throughout this four volume series. The story starts with a teenager involuntarily outed at school, and then introduces other LGBT+ characters at varying stages of their lives. It’s simply incredible, and I cried a lot.

I sincerely hope that you will give these books a read!

As for my 2020 goals, I want to continue finding new authors and diversifying my bookshelf in order to find new works to open my eyes to different perspectives in the world around me.

Best of by Regina Caldart
regina.caldart@gmail.com
Twitter: @IgnatiaStrigha

***

I have read some amazing books this year, and narrowing it down to favourites is really hard. Even if I just stuck to horror, I’d still find it difficult. For my personal blog, I broke it down month by month and it didn’t really make it any easier.

Still, there are a few that stand above the rest. We’ll start outside horror. I read a variety of different genres, but most of what I read still contains some elements of horror because I just like dark stuff. The first few books here are popular YA fantasy’s, but ones I loved, and that have elements I think most horror fans would appreciate.

Published this year, The Queen of Nothing, the conclusion to Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, proves fairies aren’t all sparkles and sunshine. I mean, Tinkerbell could get dark at times trying to kill Wendy after all, but Black really draws on the beauty and horror of fairies to show how cruel they really can be.

Spin the Dawn also deserves a mention, the non-Disney debut from Elizabeth Lim. A retelling of Mulan, one that uses mythology to really up the darkness in this world. I am super excited for the next installment, and this is one well worth a read.

Sticking with fantasy-with-a-dash-of-horror, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, released January 2019, is a fantastic reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, with some very dark moments, and plenty of tension to keep you turning the page. This book sang to both the fantasy and horror fan in me.

On the horror side, I have to admit, Black Rainbow is an anthology I cannot stop thinking about. It’s LGBT horror that is guaranteed to have your skin crawling, have you gasping and crying and laughing and really, you can’t ask for more from an anthology.

And, lastly, two novellas from two absolutely fantastic horror writers. Dear Laura by Gemma Amor, a psychological horror that carries the reader through twists and turns, really drawing you in as Laura tries to unravel what is happening and has happened to her.

Finally, The Festering Ones by S.H. Cooper, a story of loss, love, and returning home, set against a backdrop of monsters and cults and evil gods. The only problem I had with this novel is that I wanted more. I wanted to follow more of Faith’s story.  

These six books are ones I definitely recommend, ones which, for me, really stand head and shoulders above other new release I read this year. But of course, there are a couple that deserve a mention even if they weren’t at the very top.

Other favourites: Grind Your Bones to Dust (Nicholas Day), Midnight in the Graveyard anthology, The Wicked King (Holly Black), On the Come Up (Angie Thomas), The Doll Factory (Elizabeth Macneal).

Best of by Elle Turpitt
elleturpitt@gmail.com
Twitter: @elleturpitt

***

2019 will forever be the year I found horror again. I found so many new authors to love, subgenres to splash in, and series to collect. The books on this list aren’t inclusive of everything I loved – some of them I’ve chosen specifically because you may not have read them, and I think you should! I’m terrible at rating, because although I can assign star ratings, what makes one book a 5 is different from what makes another book the same. So I’m going to assign “best of” categories of my own creation. Here goes!

Best and most inventive possession story: The Possession of Natalie Glasgow – Hailey Piper

Best folk horror with wicked cool cosmic elements and kickass female cast: The Festering Ones – S.H. Cooper

Best novella with absolutely everything a horror fan could want: Forest Underground Lydian Faust

Best twist on the zombie genre: Night of the Loving Dead – Elle Turpitt

Most heartbreaking and simultaneously terrifying: Remains – Andrew Cull

Best depiction of brujeria, seamless weaving of timelines, and absolute jaw dropping endings: Cricket Hunters – Jeremy Hepler (also mentioned for best distraction for my toddler – he loves counting the crickets).

Best collection with a first story I’m still thinking about: Little Paranoias – Sonora Taylor

Best combination of magic, humanity, and terrifying forces outside our control: Zero Saints – Gabino Iglasis

Novel I can’t recommend enough, but that I really can’t talk about because of spoilers: Inspection – Josh Malerman (but go read it and then we can send cryptic emojis to each other!)

Best vampire story: Maria the Wanted – V. Castro (seriously Louis and Lestat, suck it.)

Novella that totally stole my afternoon the day it arrived: Dear Laura – Gemma Amor

Best cover, creepiest flashback, and flat out grossest scene: The Cult Called Freedom House – Stephanie Evelyn

Best dystopian, with best developed characters that just made me go, yeah, he gets it: Ration – Cody Luff

Best meta-horror, that also treats writers with love and respect: The Dark Game – Jonathan Janz

Best book with all the feels, that I was really stupid to read right before bed: Creature – Hunter Shea

Best anthology that everyone should read: Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! – edited by Angel Luis Colon

Best apocalyptic heartbreaker: The Fearing – John F.D. Taff

Best horror with basically a one-woman show and made me even more scared of caves: The Luminous Dead – Caitlyn Starling

Book that made me want to be a better writer: Grind Your Bones to Dust – Nicholas Day

Bonus category: Best book I read that isn’t horror: Songbirds and Stray Dogs – Megan Luca.

Best of by Laurel Hightower
l.hightowerwells@gmail.com

Twitter: @hightowerlaurel

***

I’m the new kid on the block. It felt like a great year to enter the scene. Here’s my top five.

1) The Old One and The Sea – Lex H Jones

This story is perfect. The length, the illustrations, the originality, the style, the cadence, the prose, just everything. It’s a story that reimagined a young Howard Philips Lovecraft’s childhood – the why and how he became a writer and meeting Cthulhu. It’s a children’s Lovecraft book. It’s for children. It’s for adults. It’s just a fun and touching book that honors the roots of Lovecraft’s mythos, while adding its own touches to the canon.

2) Remains – Andrew Cull – Remains

This one was filled with poetry in every page. It’s a great example of show not tell. Ghost stories can be hit and miss for me, but I’d be damned if you read this and didn’t find yourself sucked in. It told a complete story. One that left me both satisfied and in search of what “really” happened. It certainly makes for a fun topic of debate with fellow readers.

3) A Cosmology of Monsters – Shaun Hamill

This one feels like a classic novel that you’d be assigned in high school (the good kind that you actually enjoyed reading). This is Hamill’s debut novel, but you’d never know it. His execution, his ability to weave so many layers of a family throughout the course of fifty years. It’s impressive, to say the least. This is another story that is directly influenced by Lovecraft’s mythos, only, it’s presented more so as lurking background component. What better way to honor Lovecraft than to represent his voice through growing madness of monsters and a forbidden city? Even if you don’t like Lovecraft, you’ll love Cosmology.

4) My Dead and Blackened Heart – Andrew Freudenberg

Freudenberg’s first collection is damn good. He branches out into so many different subgenres of horror with ease that going from one story to another is a smooth transition. From dark sci-fi, military, the ghost story, splatterpunk, and so much more. The two splatterpunk stories can compete with anything out there.

5) Growing Things and Other Stories – Paul Tremblay

What can anyone say about Tremblay that hasn’t already been said? The tales in here are full of his trademark ominous story – one feeling like it’s self-commentary on just that. One story that I particularly enjoyed was Something About Birds. It is without a doubt, everything a weird story should be.

Non-book mention: Jonathan Maeberry’s resurrection of Weird Tales magazine. I really enjoyed the first issue of the series and I hope they continue to push out top-notch strange and weird tales.

Best of by Patrick R. McDonough
Patzilla13@hotmail.com
Twitter: @prmcdonough

[Review] – And Hell Followed

By Deaths Head Press

It’s Christmas day and I’m writing a book review for an apocalypse-themed anthology.  The life of a horror reviewer!  I have lots of cookies to eat, so I will keep this short. This is the third anthology that I’ve read from Death’s Head Press this year and so far, my favorite.  The final story in the anthology, “Outpouring,” by Jeff Strand was my favorite but the following were also excellent:
“Apocalypse…Meh” by John Wayne Communale.  The most fun to be had in this anthology.
“Godless World” by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason.  Unexpectedly poignant apocalypse story.
“Ham and Pudge” by K. Trap Jones.  Another fun one.
“Six Degrees of Separation” by Delphine Quinn.  Dystopian story that would probably work well as a novella or novel.
Unfortunately, even good anthologies sometimes suffer from the dreaded “filler” stories.  There are a few in here (which will go unnamed), but there were enough to drop down the grade of what was an otherwise good quality anthology.

Grade:  C

Amazon link for And Hell Followed

Review by Jason Cavallaro
jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

I received a copy of this book from Death’s Head Press for review consideration.

Aokigahara: The Truth Behind Japan's Suicide Forest

By Tara A. Devlin

Content Warning: This book contains discussion of suicide

I’m sure you’re heard of Aokigahara in passing over the last few years. Maybe about 5 or 6 years ago, the stories about bodies found in the depths of the forest began to take root in the international public’s imagination, which has spurred a good many dark tourists to the area. However, though it is true that there are bodies to be found amongst the trees, Tara A. Devlin took a deep dive into the history of Aokigahara and both the traditional and internet folklore surrounding it in order to better anchor your morbid perspectives in reality.

For those that don’t know Tara, she specializes in Japanese internet folklore, and often translates it for her website, Kowabana, and her podcast of the same name. I’ve been listening to her for years now, and the stories she finds are a special brand of creepy. They both educate on Japan while being relatable and unnerving. When she announced that she was researching a book on Aokigahara, I can’t say that I was surprised. I bought it as soon as I was able and it didn’t disappoint.

If you’re wondering about the suicides that have made the forest an international sensation, she has the answers for you. From what could possibly be the trigger, to how quickly the bodies decay, to the search parties that try to find them. But what I found most interesting about her research is just how much else there is in Aokigahara. The forest essentially shouldn’t exist at all, and it’s so hard to navigate that you need tape to act as your breadcrumbs. There are also ponds and lakes with unexplored caves that have caused divers to meet their end. But in addition to that there are beautiful ice caverns that tourists from all over come to see, and it’s in the car park of these sites that the suicide victims are last seen.

Being a folklorist, Tara also brings up several rumors that circulate on the internet about the forest. A few of these internet legends are surprisingly true, while others you can’t validate one way or the other. Those latter ones are the kind that get under my skin, and I had a dream the other night about a bear ripping open a tent and dragging me away. And for those who are into true crime, Aum Shinrikyo makes an appearance, as well as some stories about the yakuza using the hard-to-navigate forest as a body dumping ground.

This is a wonderful non-fiction addition to any horror fan’s bookshelf. It’s informative, clear, and provides you with facts that will get under your skin and haunt your dreams.

4/5

Amazon Link For Aokigahara

Review by Regina Caldart
regina.caldart@gmail.com
Twitter: @IgnatiaStrigha

[Review] – The Demonic

By Lee Mountford

The Demonic is the first novel I’ve read by Lee Mountford, and what a read it was. This story picks up with our lead, Danni Morgan. Her husband Jon, and two children Leah and Alex. Who, following the death of Danni’s father, move back into her childhood home where evil waits.

The set up is nothing new for the horror genre. However, Lee handles this story in a way that is generally frightening. It starts off strong and does not let up until it’s shocking and painful ending. The characters feel rich and alive, for how long though, we can’t be certain. I liked all of the characters although I did feel like Danni and Leah were the strongest. Jon and Alex are well written, I just felt the female characters felt more vibrant and alive. Which is always great to see in our genre!

Lee Mountford sets a high bar with The Demonic. He gives us everything we expect from such a name, and a little more for the hell of it. I’m looking forward to the next novel of his I can get my hands on. If you’re looking for a generally unsettling book, look no farther. The Demonic will check all of your boxes. Oh, it’s also on kindle unlimited if that’s your fancy!

Amazon Link for The Demonic

Review by Garrett Witt
garrettwitt7@gmail.com
Twitter: reviewshead

I purchased this book myself and reviewed on my own accord.

[Review] – Ain't Worth A Shit

By Robert Essig and Jack Bantry

After reading and reviewing five Grindhouse Press books in a row, lets switch gears and talk about another great indie horror publisher:  Sinister Grin Press.  In particular, Ain’t Worth a Shit by Robert Essig and Jack Bantry.  
I’m not familiar with Essig, but I have read Bantry’s debut novel, The Lucky Ones Died First.  To put this simply, don’t read that one, read THIS one.  Ain’t Worth a Shit is superior to Bantry’s first novel in every way.  Whereas The Lucky Ones Died First is a creature feature, Ain’t Worth a Shit is a lean and mean dark (really dark) crime drama.  Don’t be deceived by the seemingly fun title.  I laughed too.  This book is NOT funny.  
Like all of my favorite dark crime stories, the pacing in this one is absolutely frenetic.  The first act is very short, and the action starts immediately.  If you liked the film Brawl in Cell Block 99, or you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to see a grindhouse film on paper…this is the one.  My only critique of this book is that I would’ve preferred just a tiny bit more character development with the main victims in the story.  This would’ve made the narrative even MORE grueling  and emotionally resonant.  Overall, this is a very small gripe for what is a vastly entertaining book.

Grade:  B

Amazon Link for Ain’t Worth A Shit

Review by Jason Cavallaro
jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

I received a copy of the book from Sinister Grin Press in exchange for review consideration