Reviews - A collection - Part 1
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Femina - A collection of dark fiction - by Caitlin Marceau
Having read the award-winning “This is where we talk things out”, and having had Caitlin frustrate me in the best possible way in that novella, I snatched up both “Femina” and “Palimpsest” to see what she could do in even shorter form, both are collections of her short stories. There’s a lot on offer in Femina, given that there are 15 shorts here, with women MCs up front and in the center of all of the stories.
The longer “short” - Tabula Rasa – straight from the get-go lets the reader know that you’re in good hands and shows the diversity of writing that Caitlin is bringing to the party. Set in deep space, a woman awakes to find herself with worrying memory loss, and at the same time, she is being hunted by something that is desperately trying to be her… It’s a strong start, I don’t think there was any doubt where the short was going to end, but the strength of the story creates exactly the tension you want going into a new collection.
In Utero was a nice addition, short enough to not want to paraphrase here, for fear of spoiling it. Everything she’s looking for was likewise crisp in prose, though again the ending seemed pretty clear to me. Blood and coffee has that frustrating element to it I experienced from reading Caitlin’s “This is where…”, that same feeling of wanting to punch someone on behalf of the character. The ending was as bloody and brutal as I hoped it would be - Caitlin flexing her Gore muscles in the right moment in the right place. 23 McCormick Road – which I believe is a stand-alone novella previously published, reminded me of Shauna McEleney’s Debut, “Awake in the Night”, both having great portrayals of Lesbian marriage relationships. As I said, Character is everything, and Caitlin delivers.
There were some misses in here for me too, a story that felt a bit preachy or another that seemed undefined (which could have been my misinterpretation of the short or that they just left the definition of the “threat” as something better left to your imagination), but the voice, the quality of the writing and Marceau’s commitment to her characters still left me impressed and wanting to read more.
Highlight of the collection? Probably Tabula Rasa – though In Utero gives it a run for its money, in a much shorter run time.
I’m giving this 4 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s, and am looking forward to Palimpsest – coming up soon.
The Encyclopocalypse of Legends and Lore - Edited by Janine Pipe
This collection, edited by Janine Pipe, kicks off with a strong start from both Stephanie Ellis and Ross Jeffery, with their shorts “Invitation to the Feast” and “The Womb is a Tomb” respectively. It’s a standard that sets a high bar, Stephanie’s opening with a Viking-type sacrifice and Ross’ gore-laden body horror both hit home in two geometrically opposed horror subgenres – a real treat for fans of diversity in their collections. Ross’ short was probably the highlight of the collection, just for the description of the transformation in the car alone. Very good – shocking, nasty, dirty.
Unfortunately, that bar was too high to maintain.
After that opening salvo, the stories flounder. Brennan LaFaro’s Perchta is a light in a darkening tunnel, a promise of stronger stories yet to be found in the volume, and a good flex of his writing muscles. Tim Meyer’s Laugh at Us is ok, though the ending peters out. Ken Winkler and Stephanie Rabig’s shorts promised good things to come.
The rest weren’t my thing. Either I felt they didn’t have a point, had nothing to do with the collection's title, had excessive gore with too little story, or just missed a mark I am not sure they were aiming for anyway. Maybe it's me.
This is a 3 ⭐ read for me.
The Sacrament - A Religious Horror Anthology - Edited by Kelly Brockhurst and Jamie Stewart
The Sacrament is an anthology with one shining star and a lot of good stories. There are a couple of shorts included here that weren’t my thing, but given the specific theme, the diversity of stories was a pleasant surprise. Not being religious myself, and having only a passing interest in religion (how it can go wrong, for example) – I was nevertheless entertained for the most part by this book.
I read a couple of reviews, prior to finishing this anthology, and I think most of them correctly identified Caitlin Marcaeu’s “Dandyandy Fitness” as the highlight of the anthology. Caitlin turns up the gore at the end of the piece, which had taken apart a blogger’s day-to-day obsessions and schedule, to turn in a great modern horror short. Great idea, well executed, and with the smack at the end it so rightly deserved. Great stuff.
Spencer Hamilton’s Smile and say your prayers was basically an advert to go check out his Smileyland series, well written, I’d say I’ll be looking that up after I finally read his “The Fear”.
Most of the stories are ok. I know that sounds vague, I enjoyed them, but none of them really impressed me as Caitlin’s did. It’s a collection that entertains, and it’s a good introduction to some authors you may not have heard of before, but for me, the spark wasn’t there.
This gets a 3 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s
Bones - by Andrew Cull
This was a joy to read. Cull nails it in his opening lines, making the reader bite at the bit to find out what every nuance of those openers mean. His hooks dig into the reader and leave no room, no excuse, no possibility other than turning the page.
This is a book to devour.
I have little to no doubt that Cull is going to become a favorite of mine if this is the standard to which his other books are held. I read his “The Cockroach King” and immediately bought this collection as a result, now it seems I will have to go through his back catalog to see what other delights he has in store for me.
I won’t go through all of the shorts here, other reviewers have covered that, but I will highlight the star of the collection – for me – which has to be “Knock and you will see me”, which really got under my skin. That idea of communication from the grave, of being trapped below ground, of frantic messages to your kin, of the feeling of being eaten alive by insects that found their way into the coffin – exquisite – It had me breathless.
It was hard to single out a star, all of the shorts here deserve praise. There’s not a bad story among them.
If you are looking for a fantastic introduction to a horror author, look no further.
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s and Andrew got added to my list of Auto-buy authors.
Slattery Falls - by Brennan LaFaro
I know – I know. I’m late to the Slattery Falls party, given that it is now part of a trilogy, the third (and final?) part of which debuted this week, and I have no excuse. I knew it was praised, but I avoided reading any reviews because I wanted to read it fresh, as it is intended to be read. The premise is simple, a trio of haunted house investigators check out a house – more than that I was unaware of. So – a ghost story/paranormal investigation novella.
LaFaro himself is a reader’s reader, and as half of the Dead Headspace podcast, he knows his stuff. I’d previously read Noose, and loved it (I mean, C’mon, great premise – check out my review) and the follow-up to Noose is coming out… soon? I think? So I wanted a little more background on Brennan’s back catalog, plus, the man’s producing books at a rate of knots – probably best to catch up and see what I’d been missing.
What had I been missing? Well, Brennan’s voice is as smooth as silk. The chapters here are kept short and the pacing is fast enough. The chapters are well-edited, there’s nothing here to trip up the reader. The characters are all individual enough that their voices don’t blend. Likewise, their attitudes and priorities.
Slattery Falls is fun. It’s a paranormal investigator's tale, with a horror basis. You get the feeling going in that this isn’t just jump scares, that the characters aren’t safe. I pretty quickly guessed that one of the team wasn’t going to make it out the other side, and because this isn’t a new book, I think if I post spoiler alerts on this review, it’s ok to say I guessed right. The way that happened, the cold narration of the demise of that character, well, that was class. I love clean, analytical death in horror books, no mercy, no hesitation – it’s that cut from reality, that makes shocking scenes mean so much more, and the timing here was perfect.
It does leave me wondering how the series continues. I’ll be sure to get onto the sequel as soon as possible, this was a blast, and I thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay in the mind of LaFaro.
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s
The trees grew because I bled there - by Eric LaRocca
I’m going to say that this was weird.
Good weird, the weird kind of weird that leaves you thinking about the content of the story long after you put the book down. The kind of weird that makes you wonder if you misunderstood the story you just read, and then you read it again, just to make sure, and still don’t know if you misunderstood the story, because the second time around you came to a totally different yet plausible explanation. It’s the kind of book that is like getting lost on the moors, in fog, only for a strange figure to approach your car and listen to your panicked request for help, to point in a direction where there wasn’t a road before, only for there to be a road appear where he pointed, that was always there, always a road, only now you are astride a wet alpaca.
Some of the stories are cruel. Some of them are inexplicable. Some of them leave a bitter taste.
Each one of them are as unique as Eric himself.
I don’t know what I think of this collection. Even the stories I didn’t really get, the stories where the ending was upon me before it felt it was over, the ones I felt showed an insight into the frustration or persecution in Eric’s own life, things he’d written which I felt were probably hinting at similar relationships from reality – and which hurt, therefore, to read – even those – left this reader unsettled.
It’s hard to not know if you enjoyed a book, because the content of the stories in that book took you to places that were perhaps unpleasant to visit, and unabashedly so. Is this an insight into Eric’s mind? I don’t know.
It’s captivating, of that I am sure. Well written – absolutely. Enjoyable? Not so much.
As I said, this is a strange creature. One I’m pleased to have met, spent time with, but which I am pleased to not live with.
4 out of 5 uncomfortable ⭐ ‘s