Snow White’s Shattered Coffin is Horror with Heart [Book Review]

If you’re looking for horror with heart, Cynthia Pelayo’s work will not disappoint. I feel confident in that statement even though I’ve only read two of her books so far. The first was her collection, Poems of My Night, and the most recent—Snow White’s Shattered Coffin.

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When an author creates quality short fiction and/or poetry, it’s pretty much a guarantee that I will enjoy their longer fiction. After this most recent read, I’m absolutely looking forward to reading Pelayo’s novels. Snow White’s Shattered Coffin is a chapbook, and therefore a short tale, but it’s packed full of substance.

The author has a talent for creating memorable characters and balancing their development with equally solid pacing and plot. I found this story to be equal parts heartbreaking and haunting. I was not surprised to find the prose infused with a poetic quality, and certain lines brought tears to my eyes.

About that—yes, I cry easily, but it still takes a special story to move me to that place. I could go through my shelves and point out every book that has made me cry. There are a lot, but fewer than you’d think. I never forget a story with heart, and I especially love a connection with the characters. Those type of stories share many traits, and authenticity is at the top of the list. You can tell when an author writes from the heart, and Cynthia Pelayo is a great example. In this particular story, her love of family, heritage, and her hometown shine through. She writes what she knows, and does it well. Her stories speak to the human experience and the ties that bind us, no matter our background. I think I mentioned something similar to this in my review for Poems of My Night, but it’s worth stating again.

I also want to note the beautiful artwork accompanying this story. The illustrations are from Chicago-based artist Vheto Gutierrez Vazquez. What Pelayo brings to life through her words, Vazquez enhances with his drawings. It’s a wonderful combination that makes for effective storytelling.

I look forward to reading more of Cynthia Pelayo’s work. There are several published titles on my list, and future projects to anticipate. Readers should add her stories to their shelf if they haven’t already, and be prepared to see her name on book covers for many years to come.

Publication Date: March 24, 2021

Publisher: It Came from Beyond Pulp

Book Review: CIRQUE BERSERK by Jessica Guess

Cirque Berserk was my first read from Unnerving’s “Rewind or Die” novella series. It certainly won’t be my last from this series or from author Jessica Guess. I was initially drawn into this story by the 80’s vibes, but I stuck around for so much more. 

There are a lot of things to love about this book, starting with the 80’s pop culture references, which I adored. I loved all of the song mentions throughout the story, and how each section of the book was titled with an 80’s track (especially how the first and last section tied together). The musical mentions and the setting, in an abandoned carnival, both add a lot to the atmosphere of the story. 

This book read like a movie to me. It’s like a teen horror film that I would’ve selected on VHS during my high school days. I was drawn in fast, and carried along by a great combination of suspense and character development. I really enjoyed the format for this story. As we follow a group of modern day teens into the carnival, we’re then introduced to a group of murderous teens who’ve haunted the place for 30 years. The chapters each focus on a specific character’s background as we’re still carried through current affairs. It was nice getting a glimpse into each of the main characters’ past. This allowed for a lot of depth to my understanding and connection with the story, as I was able to empathize not only with the protagonists, but with the antagonists as well. 

The kills in this tale are cinematic and memorable. There’s a nice balance of gore and substance within the story, which I appreciated. I’m fairly certain I’ll never hear a few specific 80’s songs in the same way again, and I’m now even more creeped out by carnival attractions like the Funhouse. By the end I wanted to transport myself back to my local roller rink in the late 80’s. There was never a better time to don a pair of roller skates, snap some bubble gum, and drop a song request in the deejay’s bucket (which they lowered down on a string). What a fun and nostalgic read!

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: 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.