Book Review: SAMSON AND DENIAL by Robert Ford

Here we are again…I’ve read more of Bob Ford’s work, and I’m here to sing his praises some more. 2019 has been quite a year for my bookshelves, which are near collapse under the weight of my favorite authors’ work. This year has been exceptional with regards to discovering new-to-me writers, many of which do not get the recognition they deserve. Bob Ford is included in this fine group of talented people.

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I feel like I’m backpedaling a bit as I make my way through his books, as I started out by reading some of his collaborative work, and then picked up his solo writing. That brings us to SAMSON AND DENIAL, my latest read, in which I was thrilled to recognize some characters from his other stories. This is a novella, so it was easy to fly through it, but like the rest of Bob’s stories, I didn’t want it to end. I’m not sure how else to describe it, but reading his work is like sitting down with an old friend– one you haven’t seen for years, but somehow it feels like no time has passed. There’s a comfort and familiarity in the writing. This novella contains all of the things I hold dear about Bob’s work, so forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but I need to mention these aspects again. It’s a short tale, yet packed with solid character development, witty dialogue, humor, just enough horror, and heart. This is a winning combination to me.

If you’re looking to start your journey with his work, this would be a great place to start. (Plus, you’ll be fully prepared to spot the “Easter eggs” along the way as you read his other solo work and collaborations). The last thing I’ll say here is important. There are a handful of authors whose writing grips me from page one, and keeps me engaged until the very end, and Bob Ford is one of these talented people.

5/5 Stars

Book Review: THE APOCALYPTIC MANNEQUIN by Stephanie Wytovich

I consider myself a “newbie” when it comes to reading and reviewing poetry, as most of my reading consists of prose. However, over this past year I’ve ventured into some horror-themed poetry collections. So, when I was offered a copy of The Apocalyptic Mannequin for review, I happily accepted, for two main reasons. Number one: I’ve heard nothing but praise for the author’s work. The second reason was simply to broaden my horizons as a reader and step slightly out of my comfort zone.

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Because I’m newer to poetry, I sometimes feel shaky about my opinions when it comes to reviews, but here’s what I can tell you about this collection—the writing is gorgeous and descriptive, even while being centered on such a terrifying topic as the apocalypse. All of the poems, no matter whether short or long in length, conjure up some strong mental imagery for the reader. Stephanie Wytovich does an amazing job of making one truly “see” what they’re reading. Some of the descriptions are so well written that I could nearly taste or feel what she was writing about in that moment.

As usual with collections, I’ve selected my “Top 5” pieces to share with you. In this collection, my favorites are:

 

“Only What Could Be Carried”

 

“Abandonment”

 

“There’s No Air Left”

 

“Beneath the Rubble, They’re Watching”

 

“Marionette Disorder”

 

If you’re a fan of horror-themed poetry, especially apocalyptic horror, I’d recommend this collection. I’m looking forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future.

4/5 Stars

 

 

Book Review: WELCOME TO THE SHOW

Until recently, I feel like I’ve somehow been living blind to the fact that horror anthologies exist. I’m not sure how I overlooked so many, but thankfully there are several on my shelves now, with more to come. I love these books– the mix of voices allows a chance to discover new authors, but also showcases what some of my favorites are capable of when it comes to short fiction.

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While many horror anthologies focus on a central theme, WELCOME TO THE SHOW is unique in that all of the stories are based on the same venue. I loved the mix of stories in this book, each with ties to the location, but with a style and a tale of their own. While I enjoyed them all, there were several standouts, which I’ve narrowed down to my Top 5. I’m listing them here in the order that I read them, with some brief thoughts on each:

-Pilgrimage by Bryan Smith: This is the first piece of writing I’ve read from Bryan, and it certainly won’t be last. I loved the overall vibe of this story, as well as the dialogue and character interactions. The last few pages brought on a twist that I was not originally expecting and left me haunted at the end.

-Dark Stage by Matt Hayward: A haunting story about a man who finds an unexpected sort of healing through a stranger’s music. If you’ve read Matt’s work, you know that his writing is awesome, but that he’s especially a master when it comes to describing music and its effect. That’s what I loved most about this story– the description of this character’s experience with the music. It’s just several paragraphs that leave a lasting impact, especially if you’re a music lover. You’ll be enveloped in thoughts of how certain songs or musical moments have swept you away.

Open Mic Night by Kelli Owen: I loved the overall concept and subject matter in this story. Kelli created an engrossing tale about supernatural forces surrounding the “27 Club”. I took my time savoring the words in this story and thought the ending was stellar as well.

Ascending by Robert Ford: Bob’s stories have me hooked from the beginning line, and this one is no exception. A love story rooted in horror, with references to some musical giants, including some great dialogue based on lyrics or lines from musicians. It also has an ending that I didn’t see coming.

-Running Free by Brian Keene: This is the part where I make a shameful admission…this story is my introduction to Keene’s writing. I have several of his books on my shelf, and due to my current book hoarding status, I just haven’t read them yet. You can bet that I’ll be working them into the rotation soon, however. This story was great from beginning to end. It has creepiness, heart, and a touch of humor in the right places. Without spoiling exactly how, I’ll say that this one has ties to some other stories in the anthology (aside from venue), which I really loved.

Overall, a fantastic concept and a 5-star mix of stories that I’d highly recommend to horror fans, especially if you love a dash of rock and roll mixed in to what you’re reading. Consider The Shantyman added to my list of fictional venues I’d like to frequent.

Book Review: CATTYWAMPUS by Robert Ford and John Boden

After finishing Rattlesnake Kisses recently, I’d been eyeing the copy of Cattywampus on my TBR cart. It didn’t take much to convince myself that I should just go ahead and read this one, as I didn’t want to leave Boden and Ford’s “Knucklebucket thang” universe so soon, and they have both claimed a spot on my favorite authors list.

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In just over 100 pages, the authors have managed to tell another unforgettable tale. I  had no idea where this one was going, and it was a fun ride. I was cracking up at the dialogue and the characters’ antics by the second or third page, but then left in shock a couple of pages later when the story took a turn into more serious territory. Despite some serious moments, this one is still sprinkled with the bits of humor and heart I’ve come to expect from these authors. There are several twists and turns that you likely won’t see coming, and if you’ve read other work from these two, you’ll love that there are certain characters who make a brief appearance in this story. (On that note, this is enjoyable as a standalone, however, I’d highly recommend reading Rattlesnake Kisses and Spungunion prior to this one for a full appreciation of all that’s included). I can barely contain my excitement when I think of what’s next to come in this series! In the meantime, I’ll be daydreaming about what’s in store.

5/5 Stars

Book Review: RITUAL by Steve Stred

Ritual is a recently-released novella, and my first read from author Steve Stred. This was an intense story, best read in one sitting. Things started out rather tame, with glimpses into the main character’s seemingly mundane life. It quickly ramped up, and I found myself flipping pages rather quickly to see what was coming next.

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There are some truly depraved deeds and unsavory characters in this story. If you’re looking for a feel-good read, this isn’t it. However, if you’re in the market for a fast-paced, brutal story with an unforgettable ending, then you’ve come to the right place. I was horrified at times, but the solid storytelling carried me through. Sometimes I enjoy just feeling freaked out after I read a story, and this one definitely put me in that place. I am curious to read more from this author, especially in full-length novel format.

4/5 stars

Book Review: THE PALE WHITE by Chad Lutzke

I can’t imagine a time I’ll ever be left emotionless by Chad Lutzke’s work. Every piece of his writing that I’ve read so far has pulled on the heartstrings. I expected nothing less when I read his newest novella, The Pale White, and it certainly delivered.

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This story delivers moments that will make your skin crawl, and your heart will hurt for the characters who have endured so much pain. There are bits of revenge toward some of the horrific humans who’ve wronged them, and despite the terrible circumstances, we’re eventually left with a bit of hope for these characters. By the end it’s not all bleak– there are themes of redemption for some, and there’s a hint that these broken people might start anew.

I enjoyed that this was a sort of coming-of-age tale featuring female characters as the focus. The story moves so quickly and it’s hard to set it down once you start. There was palpable dread as I  accompanied these characters on their journey– multiple times I    feared that their plans for freedom might be interrupted and that they’d be forced back into their nightmarish life. I would’ve enjoyed seeing this book expanded even more to include additional backstory on the characters, as well as a further glimpse into their lives after they found their way home. Overall, this is another solid tale from Chad Lutzke, and I’m here for whatever comes next.

4/5 stars

 

Book Review: RATTLESNAKE KISSES by Robert Ford and John Boden

Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of reading stories from both Bob Ford and John Boden, and both have secured a place on my favorite authors list. I had no doubt that a collaboration between the two would deliver, and it somehow exceeded my already high expectations.

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It’s my understanding that Rattlesnake Kisses is just the beginning of the tales to come from Boden and Ford’s “Knucklebucket Thang” universe, and that thrills me to no end! This is a stellar collaboration, overflowing with all of the writing elements I’ve come to love from these authors. That includes strong character development, humor, and heart. I was thoroughly entertained by all of the characters, but I especially loved Dallas and the Kid. I loved the relationship between these two characters. The bond that they shared was a perfect example of how family doesn’t always mean blood-related, and how we can find our “tribe” in unexpected places. Of course, this story is also packed full of hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments that had me in stitches. It’s a page-turner with grit and some rough edges, rounded out by the humor and heartfelt emotion that I’ve come to love from these two authors.

You know the stories that you greedily devour while also wanting to slow down and savor every moment forever? Rattlesnake Kisses is one of those stories. It was honestly a pleasure to read. I finished it in less than 2 days, and it left me thirsty for not only a drink at the “Knuckle Bucket”, but also for what’s next from Ford and Boden.

5/5 Stars

Book Review: Little Paranoias by Sonora Taylor

Sonora Taylor is one of the authors I had the pleasure of meeting at Scares That Care weekend this year. Soon afterward, she was gracious enough to send me a copy of her new collection, Little Paranoias: Stories, in exchange for an honest review.

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I enjoyed many aspects of this book. Let’s start with that striking cover, and the artwork on the title page– both caught my eye and drew me in from the beginning. Little Paranoias is a collection that includes poetry, flash fiction, and short stories. I  really liked how these different formats were interspersed throughout the book.

There were a couple of flash fiction pieces that stood out for me, as they really packed a punch within just 2-3 pages of writing. I loved that several of these stories had rather unexpected or shocking endings.

I  have a pattern of selecting my “Top 5” stories from any collection I read, so let me tell you which ones struck a chord with me:

Weary Bones– The first short story in this collection, which left me feeling a bit melancholy (in a good way, as I’m often dwell in this emotion), and made me tear up a bit. This story stuck in my mind all the way through the end of the collection. I thought that this was a beautifully haunting story.

Never Walk Alone– a piece of flash fiction with a surprise ending. Enjoyed this one!

Cranberry– I related a bit to the character’s pain, and enjoyed the themes in this story.

Hearts Are Just “Likes”– In our social media-obsessed age, this one was relatable, and I  loved that it’s a modern re-telling of “A Tell-Tale Heart”.

Seed– Love the mix of creeping dread, and the themes of loneliness and longing for connection as the apocalypse is looming. I  can also appreciate a bit of lust mixed in with my horror, so I enjoyed that aspect of the story as well (honorable mention to “Salt” for some similar moments). This story and Weary Bones were great bookends to the collection (with a poem prior to the first story and following the last).

I’m so glad that I picked up a copy of Sonora’s novel Without Condition, as I’m looking forward to reading that one next, and I’m excited to see what she writes in the future!

4/5 Stars