Book Review: GHOST SUMMER: STORIES by Tananarive Due

One of my favorite experiences as a reader is this: discovering a new favorite author after only one encounter with their work. This is exactly what happened when I finished my read of GHOST SUMMER. Tananarive Due has secured a spot on my favorites shelf, and I’m so excited there’s more of her work that I get to read for the first time.

As I’ve said before, I adore short story collections, especially as an introduction to a new author. I can trust that an amazing short story collection means the rest of a writer’s work will be strong. Another thing I love? Author notes, in all forms—even if it’s just a foreword or afterword. But what really puts me over the moon is an inside look into each story in a collection. I loved that this author included notes after each piece, and the afterword written by her husband, Steven Barnes, was a fantastic way to wrap-up the book.

Every single story in this collection is great. I tend to read collections or anthologies in order, and highly recommend that others do that with these stories. They are split into sections based on a common theme. These include: Gracetown, The Knowing, Carriers, and Vanishings. I enjoyed all of the stories, but my favorite section was “Carriers”, as the theme resonated and was so pertinent to current times. If I chose a second favorite section, it would be “The Knowing”.

If you’ve been following my reviews and social media posts, you likely know by now that I feel deeply and I love books that give my heart a solid squeeze, even if they leave me in tears. This collection is right up there with others that I’ve wanted to hug, and it truly fits the definition of “horror with heart”. I found the writing to be so beautiful, and I could fill pages with lines that are worth repeating. It’s tough to narrow it down to five favorites, but I’ll do that here. The stories that stood out most for me are:

-FREE JIM’S MINE

-THE KNOWING

-LIKE DAUGHTER

-DANGER WORD

-HERD IMMUNITY

Friends, this is storytelling at its finest. Tananarive Due is one of those writers with a true gift for crafting a perfect story. The characters, setting, and dialogue are all top-notch, wrapped up in a veil of authenticity. I can’t count how many times her words tugged on my heartstrings and struck a chord. These stories will take you through vivid and vast experiences and on an adventure filled with a wide range of emotion. I can’t recommend this collection enough, and I feel confident that you can’t go wrong with any of Due’s work, even though I’ve yet to read more for myself.

Book Review: THOSE BELOW THE TREE HOUSE by Matt Hayward

Considering the downturn this year has taken only three months in, I’m even more grateful for the fact that I began my year with such a stellar reading lineup. In January I had the honor of beta reading THOSE BELOW THE TREE HOUSE, and it set the bar extremely high for the other books on my TBR list. After I finished this novel, I sat in my book hangover haze and thought to myself, I’m running out of ways to praise Matt Hayward’s work. I had this thought, not because I’m at loss for words, but because I don’t want to simply repeat what I’ve said before. I’ve got plenty of praise for this one, and while I don’t want to sound like a broken record, I just can’t help if I repeat some of what I’ve told you in the past. So in this review, be prepared to hear what you might already know about Matt’s work, as well as what I hope is a fresh take on the topic.

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Just give me one moment to grab my notes…

Oh, there they are! I thought I’d misplaced that file labeled “Books I Want To Hug and Call my BFF”. Turns out I’ve got it right here, and even if I’d lost it, I’d remember that this novel is on the top of that list. Let’s see what I wrote down about this one, and I’ll expand on each thought:

Tony=my favorite character

By now you’re all aware that Matt is a master at character development. It’s part of what makes his stories so authentic and relatable, and one of the main reasons why I love the writing. It’s impossible not to empathize with the characters in this story, especially the protagonist, Tony. I especially loved the moments about music and its effects on him amidst the tumult. This took me back to my own youth, and while I’m not a musician, I was practically born wearing a pair of headphones. Music was always a constant no matter how turbulent life was at the time. Before I ramble more, let’s just sum this up by saying that I think Tony is tied with Owen from Meeting Gregory for the spot of my favorite Hayward character.

This is my favorite coming of age story

You might know that I’ve struggled with coming of age stories in the past. There have only been a few that resonate with me, and this is one of them. Of all the books and stories I’ve read that fit this description, this one is my absolute favorite.

I couldn’t put this book down—finished 75% of it the first day I started reading

This is true, and will probably come as no surprise to anyone who is a fan of Matt’s work. I basically forced myself to stop reading that first night and save the remainder of the book for the following day. Then, I carried my Kindle around all day, and after work, I sat in a parking lot and finished the book before running errands. I just couldn’t wait. Isn’t that one of the best feelings when a book is so good, you carry it around all day just to sneak in a read whenever possible? You’ll have a hard time putting this one down. The story pulls you right in from the beginning, and from there the tension builds. This novel exudes everything that makes Matt’s writing great. Within its pages you’ll find the perfect combination of horror, humor, and heart (I think I’ll call this the “Triple Threat” from now on). My heart raced with suspense, broke with grief at certain points, and I had a good laugh when it was needed most.

I want to condense this book and wear it in a locket, close to my heart. Well, that was the last line of my notes, and while it might sound silly, I can’t think of a better way to describe how much I loved this novel. Things are rough for us all at the moment, but what a comforting thought to know that books are always there—amazing books like this one from Matt Hayward. In the midst of the turmoil, readers can take comfort in the fact that this novel is on the horizon.

(Review originally posted March 2020)

5/5 Stars

Publisher: Poltergeist Press

Release Date: June 11, 2020

Book Review: BUTCHERS by Todd Sullivan

When it comes to vampire stories, BUTCHERS has a unique premise. It’s one of the things that first caught my interest, aside from the eye-catching cover art. Reading this book was a new experience to me in several ways. I think that it’s the first horror story I’ve read about Asian characters; I’m aware of quite a few Asian horror films, but can’t say that I’ve been exposed to many of these stories within literature before. This particular tale is set in South Korea, and I enjoyed the snippets it provided in regard to culture and setting.

This is a fast-paced novella, and the author drops the reader in on the action from the very beginning. I thought that he did a great job with packing in some history on the main characters in so few pages—it never felt like too much. It was nice to have a glimpse of their pasts, and this added in my development of empathy for several of the characters. Without spoilers, I’ll say that this is a story about modern-day vampires blending in with human society, while maintaining order within their own species. As I mentioned earlier, there were some unique takes on the vampire trope, and I really enjoyed that. One aspect that really stood out to me was the description of how the vampires dealt with pretending to be human—trying to blend in but having to be cautious in order to do so. In a lot of vampire stories, their lives seem glamorous, but we don’t always see the negative aspects. Todd Sullivan shows the reader this downside when he describes how the vampires must restrain their speed and other abilities, and he also notes how they must consume human food to blend in. Some of my favorite scenes (and also some of the most cringe-worthy) involved this piece of their lives. There are some tense and visceral moments of horror throughout this story. The author doesn’t hold back in describing the brutality that the characters endure and dish out to others. It’s gory at times but never felt over the top or out of place to me.

 

My connection to the characters is always important in a read, and that was a standout aspect of this story for me. While I didn’t share their particular life experience, the author was able to humanize even the villains, and that added to my understanding. There’s just enough information in this story to leave you wanting more at the end, and once I finished reading, I discovered that there is a sequel, so I’ll be adding that to my TBR. If you’re looking for a fast-paced horror novella that reads like a movie, I’d recommend checking this out—especially if you’re looking for a fresh perspective on the vampire story.

 

 

Book Review: DISTINGUISHING FEATURES by Kealan Patrick Burke

If you’re already familiar with the work of Kealan Patrick Burke, then you know this—he’s great at crafting well-rounded stories that leave a lasting impact on the reader. Most of my experience with this author (thus far) has been through exploring his short fiction in novellas, collections, and anthologies. With each of those reads, I’ve found that “triple threat” combination that elevates storytelling to another level: horror, humor, and heart.

(Photo by It Came from Beyond Pulp)

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES is no exception to this standard. This story packs a punch in just a short number of pages. I was immediately pulled into the story, and carried along at a quick pace. Burke has a consistent ability to grab the reader by the feels and keep them going with moments of relatability mixed with scares and some scattered comic relief. This one has some authentic descriptions of struggles within the main character’s relationships, and I just found it to have excellent portrayal of his emotions at different moments throughout the story. There were also some flat-out chilling moments that brought unease, and the ending was certainly memorable.

Since this is chapbook, I’m extra cautious of giving too much away and ruining the details for other readers. Fans of Burke’s writing will not be disappointed by this one, as it’s the engaging storytelling style that you’ve come to expect, enhanced by the addition of artwork. Corinne Halbert’s illustrations are great, bringing the words even further to life. If you’re new to this author, this could also be a fun place to start—once you dip your toes in and get your feet wet, you’ll want to wade deeper into the expanse of his work.

Publisher: It Came from Beyond Pulp

Release Date: Mid-June 2020

Book Review: POEMS OF MY NIGHT by Cynthia Pelayo

Confession time: I still feel unsure when it comes to reviewing poetry. Aside from assigned reading in school, it’s not something that I’ve sought out over the years. There were definitely poems that I enjoyed, but I always felt like I just didn’t “get it”. In the past year, I’ve read more poetry than ever, and while I still consider myself a newbie, I’ve learned that it is something I enjoy—I think I was just never reading the write poems before. Now that I’ve ventured into the world of dark/horror poetry, I’ve come across some collections that I’ve connected with, but none have hit me in the feels like Cynthia Pelayo’s POEMS OF MY NIGHT.

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Up until this point, I felt a bit like I was stumbling through the art museum, watching others stand in awe and admiration of pieces that I didn’t understand– and then suddenly I found the piece that spoke to me. There were many things I loved about these poems. The most intense and effective for me were those centered on topics such as insomnia and death. I loved how the titles were in Spanish. This added an even deeper sense of culture and authenticity to the writing for me. Another unique fact about this collection is that it was written in response to the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges (whose work I’ve not read, but will be seeking out in the future).  Pelayo’s words come alive on the page, and while I had many favorites in this collection, my top selections were:

Insomnio

-La Noche Ciclica

-Poema conjetural

-La Luna

-Limites

-El sucida

-Signos

-La Joven noche

Several of these pieces made me tear up, and many of them had me returning to the beginning for a second read to savor the words. I feel that my experience with this collection is further proof that we’re missing out if not reading widely, especially within the horror genre. We don’t have to share the same cultural background and life experience as the author to connect with the writing. I’ve said it before and will again—I myself have a lot of work to do when it comes to adding variety to my bookshelf. I’m happy that Latinx Book Month was brought to my attention, and I was able to load my shelves up with some work I might’ve missed out on otherwise, including this collection. I sincerely look forward to reading more from Pelayo, and hopefully soon. I loved her voice and stories woven into these poems—this is quality writing that makes me want to seek out more poetry for my shelf.

 

Book Review: JEDI SUMMER WITH THE MAGNETIC KID by John Boden

John Boden became a favorite from the moment I first read his words. I’d been saving JEDI SUMMER for some time, because I hate to run out of work from my favorite authors. When I saw that there will be an upcoming new edition of this novella, I decided not to wait any longer. I wanted to take my time and savor these words, but instead I blasted through the book in a short time, because it’s THAT good.

There’s no shortage of coming-of-age stories, especially in the horror genre, but not all stories have those special qualities that lead to a fast favorite. The truly special stories in this niche transport the reader to a magical place. You know the one I’m talking about—it’s that safe space filled with warmth and nostalgia, and the longing for the happy parts of childhood that flew by in a blur. The right story can wrap you in a warm embrace and also slap you with a bit of heartbreak just as you let your guard down. My favorite coming-of-age stories take me to that place, and I can say with certainty that this story is one of them.

You’ve heard me talk about books I want to hug, and this one has officially been added to the list. My favorite authors write with unmatched authenticity. You can tell when a lot of heart has seeped into the story, and this rings true for everything I’ve read from John Boden, especially JEDI SUMMER. John is a true master with words, and in this story, takes the reader through a range of emotions. I laughed, smiled, and teared up while reading this one. Boden’s prose contains some of the most memorable and magical words I’ve ever read, and I always feel that his books are begging to be read aloud for full effect. For me, some of the best moments in this book are when he’s describing relationships, loss,  and the many little moments that we take for granted or wish to speed up when we’re young.

I’m not sure I can say anything more than what’s already been said about this book. It’s a gem and ranks high on my coming-of-age favorites list. I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you that John Boden’s talent is a treasure, and I won’t be the last. Do yourselves a favor and fill your shelves with everything he’s written, and then leave a little extra space for what’s to come.

5/5 Stars