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Book Review: The Snake Handler (2017)

The Snake Handler by Cody Goodfellow and J. David Osborne
Genre: Crime/Noir/New Weird
Published by: Broken River Books
Release Date: July 8, 2017

The Snake Handler tells the story of Reverend Clyde Hillburn, an old school preacher with a penchant for snake handling. He spares his flock the evils of the modern world all the while thriving off their drug addiction. Starting off the novel, he goes to check his mailbox, and a snake bites him which begins his hallucinatory journey in the underbelly of the rural, tiny town of Palestine, West Viriginia. There are too many big fishes to contain in this small pond, and it all comes to a head against a competing church, Mexican Cartels, and the Dixie Mafia.

I know this sounds like a run of the mill crime story, and it’s anything but. This short novel broaches a broad rang of topics, such as: big pharma, the West/Souths’ opioid addiction, the financial crisis in that region of the US, a family’s history, and faith. Some are told explicitly so, such as the impact big pharma had on poor and disenfranchised counties and towns, and some more subtler passages such a Rev. Clyde’s relationship with his family and their past:

“I’m surrounded by my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, standing on a cliff of curdled clouds besides a rushing river of souls. Daddy wears the suit he was buried in and the crude prosthetic hook they swapped for his hand in Vietnam. Granddaddy wears the overcoat he wore when he disappeared, his pockets still bulging with rocks, his gnawed down to nub by catfish and buckshot. His father holds the hand-carved cherrywood box of rattlers he used to stick his hands into, the ones that bit him to death.”

For what it’s worth, I think Clyde Hillburn is an incredible preacher. Goodfellow and Osborne did a great job with that aspect of his character. There’s passages in the novel that are too long to quote, but he does make a convincing argument for his flock. Might be the venom talking, though. The novel ventures into New Weird territory with Clyde’s gnawing addiction of snake venom. As his blood turns orange, his hands blackens and rots, he seeks for the bite that will lead him to salvation. He seeks the Devil to find salvation, or will he find nothingness?:

“The Snake entwines around me, squeezes out my breath. “No one gets what they paid for, O Man. You get what you make. You’ve taken much. And how do you aim to pay for it? If all of this is God’s plan, then you were born to belong to me. And if all of this is one of God’s little mistakes, then what fucking good is God?”

As I said before, the novel tackles big pharma. They come into small rural towns like the one depicted in the novel, push out the dealers in the area to bully their way into the market, and feed addicted communities another drug, a stronger drug to ease the pain of not having a job, or working whats left of the back breaking mining jobs. It’s an interconnected system of fucked up shit, but and I think nothing sums up the novels criticism quite like this:

“I hear the politicians say these businesses are people now, which I guess is progress, though it makes  the rest of us too small to see with the naked corporate eye. When corporations die, do they go to Heaven? Are their souls bigger, brighter than ours? Are you so dazzled by them that you can’t see us anymore?”

Cody Goodfellow and J. David Osborne have written a great, pulpy adventure that has a lot more to offer than what’s on the surface. The novels violent moments were poetic in their grisly realism, and that’s a testament to their writing skills. They dive into seedy depths, and come with a style that few can pull off.

8.5/10

Find Cody Goodfellow’s FB Author Page
Find J. David Osborne on Twitter
Buy THE SNAKE HANDLER

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Book Review: Blindsight (2006)

Blindsight by Peter Watts
Genre: Science Fiction, Hard Science Fiction
Published by: Tor Books
Release Date: Oct. 3, 2006

Okay, there’s so much going on in this novel I have no idea where to begin.

Blindsight is a novel that follows Siri Keeton, a man with literally half a brain, one of the crew members of the interstellar research ship Theseus. Theseus is manned by a group of technologically/biological modified humans, and a resurrected vampire. Yes, you read that right. In this world, vampires were the apex predators (against humans) for centuries until a mutation in their gene started to kill them off. By mere accident, they come across an alien race inhabiting a gargantuan vessel they call Rorschach. And they are alien in every sense of the word, but they’re not malevolent…because they have no capacity to understand that. Malevolence lends itself as a conscious intention to harm another lifeform whether it be physical or otherwise.  The entities embodied in Watts work are inherently indifferent. They aren’t handicapped by consciousness, and that is terrifying.

“Supposing it’s just — instinct,” I suggested. “Flounders hide against their background pretty well, but they don’t think about it.”
“Where are they going to get that instinct from, Keeton? How is it going to evolve? Saccades are an accidental glitch in mammalian vision. Where would scramblers have encountered them before now?” Cunningham shook his head. “That thing, that thing Amanda’s robot fried— it developed that strategy on its own, on the spot. It improvised.”
The word intelligent barely encompassed that kind of improvisation….
“…I think we’re dealing with a species so far beyond us that even their retarded children can rewire our brains on the fly, and I can’t tell you how fucking scared that should make you.”

The book is front loaded with a lot of science, which honestly, went over my head but I didn’t really care either way. One of the novels main ideas the novel thrusts upon the reader is — Is consciousness self destructive? Is sentience even needed? In the grand scale of the cosmos, are we advantageous because of our consciousness, or are we hindered by it? Is control an illusion: think about moving your finger, and it will already be in motion. These are the heady questions that run throughout Blindsight, and others have tried to ask the question (and in some cases answer), sure, but never so frigidly, so mechanically. Horrible things happen daily for no reason whatsoever, but the universe is like that. Watts doesn’t give himself an out with the meanderings of a higher power, etc.

“Evolution has no foresight. Complex machinery develops its own agendas. Brains — cheat. Feedback loops evolve to promote stable heartbeats and then stumble upon the temptation of rhythm and music. The rush evoked by fractal imagery, the algorithms used for habitat selection, metastasize into art. Thrills that once had to be earned in increments of fitness can now be had from pointless introspection. Aesthetics rise unbidden from a trillion dopamine receptors, and the system moves beyond modeling the organism. It begins to model the very process of modeling. It consumes evermore computational resources, bogs itself down with endless recursion and irrelevant simulations. Like the parasitic DNA that secretes in every natural genome, it persists and proliferates and produces nothing but itself. Metaprocesses bloom like cancer, and awaken, and call themselves I.”

As you can see, Watts is far and away, a writers writer. His prose is poetic and warm, and on the sentence level there’s not many that match up to him, but he’s also cold, indifferent, calculated. It’s a thrill to read a writer on this level. His characters have depth, have full fleshed out personalities and quirks, and almost all of them are not nice people.

There’s so much to unpack with this novel I’m not even sure I’m prepared to say much more. I’ll just leave you with this: if you like hard science-fiction, this is absolutely a must read. It’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and that’s not hyperbolic in any sense of the word. Honestly, this is a masterpiece.

10/10

Buy Blindsight:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound, Powell’s OR read it for F R E E
You can find Peter Watts on his website

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Book Review: Gravity (2017)

Gravity by Michael Kazepis
Genre: Crime, Literary, Mystery, Horror, Sci-fi, etc
Published by: Broken River Books
Release Date: June 9, 2017

GRAVITY is Michael Kazepis’ follow-up to his 2014 novel LONG LOST DOG OF IT, which I believe will be re-released sometime in the future with new artwork, and new interior design. GRAVITY is a short story collection with short stories ranging from his most early work and possibly unpublished work, to more recent work like the incredibly dark story “Minerva”, and the sci-fi/Lynch-esque “Goodbye to the Holy Mountain”.

GRAVITY is comprised of nine short stories spanning multiple genres all the while avoiding the atypical tropes you’d see in lesser collections. In many ways GRAVITY seems like a love letter to the artists, writers, philosophers, films, directors, musicians, etc that have shaped Kazepis’ life. For instance, Kazepis wears his Latin American Boom influence on his sleeve with his opening story “This Is A Horror Story” seeing the protagonist (likely to be Kazepis himself) visiting the grave of Cortázar in Paris, France. It’s a short, somber story that encapsulates how much they mean to Kazepis, ending with the aforementioned visit to Cortázar’s grave. Salvador Dalí makes an unexpected appearance in “Time In The Shadow Of The Thing Too Big To See”. “Minerva” is practically oozing with nods to David Lynch, and Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Bolaño.

Kazepis makes unexpected turns in stories like “Thrush” examining the inner thoughts of an assassin as he stalks his target, and “A Song For Our Fathers” which follows a group of Russian, and Romanian ex-pats on an irradiated Earth committing some pretty horrendous crimes in order to survive.

His writing is immediate in its intimacy, and raw to your nerve endings when dealing with the visceral:

“He kept thinking about the woman inside, the cold body she was trying to warm, that special quiet king of love that builds between beings that can’t talk to each other.”

“The flesh had been carved out of his chest and stomach and now exposed an empty ribcage. His spine coiled down to where his pelvis had been. Blood filled two of the shit buckets they used.”

It’s difficult to say more about GRAVITY because it’s so short (coming in 126 pgs), but it has writing that will stick to your bones, scar you, and turn your insides out as your sanity spirals downward in the dark reaches of space. It’s dedication “for nationless children” is apt as you feel each story carries pieces of our wide, confusing world and the diverse, multi-cultured people in it. A collection that demands to be read, and you’ll be the better for it.

10/10

Buy GRAVITY: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s
Find Michael on Twitter
Check out Michael’s micropress King Shot Press

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Book Review: Entropy In Bloom (2017)

Entropy In Boom by Jeremy Robert Johnson
Genre: Most things under the sun (Noir, Bizzaro, Crime, Weird, etc)
Published by: Night Shade Books
Release Date: April 18, 2017

In the foreword to Entropy In Bloom, Brian Evenson states: “In Johnson’s world, anything can happen. The most crazed, twisted ideas are given life, pursued to their bitter limit.” This hits one of the things that grounds Entropy, and other thing is the heart with which these stories are told. It’s weird to say that when the tone of this collection is often very dark, but it does have a lot of heart, and every story reads blazingly fast.

Opening up the collection is “The League of Zeroes”, a story where body modification is taken to the extreme, and the more bizarre the modification the more you’re treated as royalty. It’s a story that is easily believable in a world where reality TV gets more and more airtime,  and our constant engagement in social media lets us become voyeurs in other people’s lives leading our fascination and curiosity of one another to grow and expand.

“The Gravity of Benham Falls” sees Johnson flexing his horror muscles as this story follows the protagonist, a woman named Laura goes on a trip with a mark, a handsome man named Tony to Benham Falls, a place where her younger brother died years ago, and the implications that a Native American woman still haunts the waterfall, killing anyone in the vicinity. Not your average ghost story, that’s for sure.

One of the most impressive things about Entropy In Bloom are the ideas/themes running in and out of this collection, specifically: the failing boundaries of reality, and the trauma that one endures throughout life and the lasting consequences of this trauma. These ideas are especially prevalent in stories like “Dissociative Skills”, “Saturn’s Game” two stories that are vastly different from one another but share that same kernel of a thought pervading each. In “Dissociative Skills” a drug addled teenager pushes the limits pain he inflicts on himself, leading to a bloody, gut-wrenching finale. “Saturn’s Game” takes the approach of being a person with a failing perception of reality. It’s an incredibly humanizing story about mental illness that stems from a physical trauma. It’s a bloody mess that puts you in the shoes of someone who’s losing everything — time, touch, smell, emotion, etc.

The final story I’ll touch on is the original novella “The Sleep of Judges”. It’s for anyone whose ever experienced being robbed, and the underlying effects that has on a person’s psyche. It’s compounded by the fact that the protagonist actively questions his masculinity, and whether or not he can keep his wife, his child, and his home safe from harm. It has left turns throughout, but it has a great payoff at the climax of the story.

Johnson writers powerful stories. It’s an undeniable fact, but the thing that impresses me the most is his ability to humanize things so well, and make them so incredibly relateable even when the most bizarre thing is happening (like a man who makes a cockroach suit to escape a nuclear apocalypse, or a Lovecraftian parasite that slowly transforms your body in extreme, grotesque ways). It’s this that makes the collection so vivid and unique. Entropy in Bloom is a book that any reader of any genre can get into, and find something they’d enjoy.

10/10

Buy ENTROPY IN BLOOM: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, Powell’s
Find Jeremy Robert Johnson on Twitter

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Book Review: The Rebellion’s Last Traitor (2017)

The Rebellion’s Last Traitor by Nik Korpon
Genre: Sci-Fi/Mystery/Thriller
Published by: Angry Robot
Release Date: June 6, 2017

The Rebellion’s Last Traitor is Nik Korpon’s latest offering, coming off his contribution to the SOUL STANDARD (a 4-way author interconnecting novel-in-novellas, say that 5 times fast). It’s an interesting departure for Nik Korpon as he’s mainly known as a crime writer with noir leanings, but in TRAITOR he’s created a thriller dressed with splashes of sci-fiction telling an overarching mystery spanning a decade.

TRAITOR follows Hanraek, former rebel leader-turned memory thief, and Walleus, a former comrade/rebel leader-turned high ranking official in the Tathadann Party. Memories are bought and sold in this not-so-distant future, allowing the Tathadann Party to rewrite history of Eitan City as they see fit. Memories are also experienced as a drug, and Hanraek comes upon a memory of his dead wife and child which will change the course of both protagonist’s lives and the course of Eitan City as a whole.

The world building in this novel is intricately expanded upon as Korpon touches upon key moments in its history: the flames of Amergin, the Resource Wars which lead the world down its path to the present day, the beginnings of the Struggle (rebel group), the aristocracy and politics of Eitan City.  It encapsulates into a rich, culturally/socially varied world which is easy to digest. Much of the novel parallels our own contemporary issues: class warfare, terrorism, fascism, and rebellion (duh), but is never done in a way which Korpons views are shoved down the readers throats. It’s getting to the root of where those things come from, on both sides of the issue, and the novel is quite engaging in that regard. It discusses these issues throughout the narrative in an unflinching, and honest way.

Nik Korpon’s writing has evolved yet again. While I wouldn’t say his previous books plots were weak, I would say that he has definitely stepped his game up quite a few notches. Some of the twists regarding Hanraek’s plot thread came at you so unexpectedly & fastball quick, so that was a great experience for me. I read this novel in about 3 sittings, so it’s very much a page turner. As I’ve said before, Nik Korpon is one of the very best when it comes to writing action and that’s no different here — some of the fight sequences alone are film-worthy. The contemporary drama between these former comrades, what is said/unsaid, political intrigue, and the hidden blades throughout the narrative pay off quite well.

Some have said that dual protagonists are indistinguishable from the other, and I have to disagree. Their viewpoints upon the world, society at large are very distinct, as is the use of language between both. Hanraek is a man caught in the unending grief of the loss of his wife and child, and lashes out quite frequently throughout the novel, whereas Walleus is a more calculated individual keeping a poker face even through the most stressful of circumstances.

All in all, this is a layered, smart novel that has something in it for just about any reader, really.

10/10

Buy the THE REBELLION’S LAST TRAITOR on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound
Find Nik Korpon on Twitter

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Book Review: Shit Luck (2016)

Shit Luck by Tiffany Scandal
Genre: Bizarro/Horror/Comedy
Published by: Eraserhead Press
Release Date: November 18, 2016

It’s difficult to write a novel in second-person because the voice itself tends to distance the reader, combining that with the bizarro genre which tends to alienate some readers for its off the wall content and you have a recipe for disaster. Despite all of this SHIT LUCK happens to be inviting, warm, disgusting AND laugh out loud funny as hell. A fuck of a feat to pull off for any writer, but Tiffany Scandal nails it with aplomb.

Shit Luck follows the story of a nameless female protagonist having the worst couple days of her life: she burnt off a piece of her hair, she gets mugged, her car breaks down, she gets fired from her job of 6 years, and more. It follows Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And this gets worse later on in the story when her friend invites her  to a frat party to cheer her up after she lost her job, and she dies. No glitz or glamour, no crime. Frat Party. D E A D.

Unfortunately this isn’t the end of her luck, it’s just the start of a life after. Think of it like reincarnation, except you have no idea what life you’ll get, where you’ll be, or what year it is (a nice caveat is that you get to keep your own body). For instance, being reincarnated into a world where the only way you can go through any door successfully is by crab-walking. A little bit more into the narrative she dies. Again. Killed by a man she saw at the party. The exact same man.

And, so, a very strange and bloody cat and mouse chase begins with being killed and being sort of brought back to the life after time and time again.

Tiffany Scandal works magic into these strange scenarios and zany worlds. In between the wacky stuff going on in the narrative there are times where the character says something so deep and personal it harkens back one of the best things about this book: relatability. How we all deal with the bad, sometimes terrible things that life throws at it, the way life sucks ass and things don’t ever go right for you, how your love life is falling apart or not going at all, how you just wanna get laid, etc. It’s all in here.

This is one of the rare books that is just funny. No holds barred, laugh out loud funny with all the gruesome murder, period blood shooting out of you, a bitch of a mom, an actual baby-man. It’s a book that moves in breakneck speed that demands to be read in one sitting (I did).

SHIT LUCK is my first book by Tiffany Scandal, but it won’t be my last, that’s for sure. Look out for those (THERE’S NO HAPPY ENDING, and JIGSAW YOUTH) sometime in the near future.

10/10

Buy SHIT LUCK on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound
Find Tiffany on Twitter
Her personal website

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Book Review: The Soul Standard (2016)

The Soul Standard by Nik Korpon, Caleb J. Ross, Axel Taiari, and Richard Thomas
Genre: Noir & Crime
Published by: Dzanc Books
Release date: July 26, 2016

Soul Standard is a book encompassing four intertwining novellas, set in different areas of the same city, and in different seasons. Personally, I’d been waiting for about 4-5 years for this book, and while I’m late to the party it does not disappoint at all. I’ll break down my thoughts on each novella individually in the order of the book, and finalize my thoughts on the book overall.

Four Corners — Caleb J. Ross

Four Corners is set in the Financial District where paper currency is dying and is quickly being replaced with blackmarket organ trading/organ harvesting, Favors, and Juice – a cocktail of drugs hinted at having a science fictional inception. The story follows an accountant named Max where his past meets his present colliding with the ruthlessness of Max’s boss Mr. Reiss, a construction/financial mogul who has seedier ties to The City, and an old flame from his childhood. A story built on sin and how it’ll always catch up to you, like a hellhound. A lot of the world building for The City, and the following stories is centered here. An opener that’ll leave a hole in your gut.

Packed with great writing and incredibly interesting concepts like a man wrapping tape around his body so when he throws himself outside of a building his organs will still be intact for his family to harvest. Brutal stuff.

Punhos Sagrados — Nik Korpon

Punhos Sagrados is set in the Red Light District, and while this may get you thinking this will be a dark sex-filled story, it’s anything but. This tragedy laden story follows Marcel, bareknuckle boxer who’s heading towards a downward spiral in his fighting career doing anything he can to care for his mentally ill wife, Mona. All he wants is to make enough money to give Mona the proper care she deserves, and set them back on the path to a normal life. Enter Carissa, a bar-lounge singer who stirs things in Marcel he hasn’t felt in years. It all comes to head when Marcel take a side hustle with Carissa sending them both into a spiral neither will return whole from. It’s a surprisingly emotional story.

Nik’s writing is scalpel sharp, and in my opinion, he writes action like no other. A good chunk of the story revolves around Marcel’s time in the ring, and in the hands of a lesser writer this would flat on its face. Nik’s does not, and it makes the story all the more powerful.

Golden Geese — Richard Thomas

Golden Geese is set in the Outskirts, an area outside of the city filled with farmland and largely absent of people. It follows the story of Trevor, a man who is addicted to Juice and has come to the Outskirt to escape the repercussions from his past actions in The City. His job is mostly waste management…of the human variety. He is left packages—fingers, decapitated heads, ankles, feet, etc, and disposes them in a pig pen where the animals have a penchant for human meat and blood. It’s a nice homage to the Hannibal film (2001). The story expands upon on the established world building found in Four Corners touching on the shadows within the shadows such as the unspeakable crimes of The City, the origins of Juice, and the kinks of the rich and powerful of The City. It’s a story of man on his last legs, desperately looking for any measure of redemption. It’s one of the more violent, and grim/bleaker stories in Soul Standard.

Richard’s writing is sharp, although at times his prose feels a bit forced in the sense that it’s tailored to fit the bleak aesthetic of noir instead of the story doing that on its own. Bleakness for the sake of bleakness, as it were. Overall, the story is impressive in it’s use of violence, and the tenor of the voice carrying it throughout.

Jamais Vu — Axel Taiari

Jamais Vu is set in Ghost Town, a ghetto of sorts for The City. It follows Jules Lethe, a man searching for his missing daughter. This is made increasingly complicated because of the condition he suffers from: prosopagnosia, an inability to recognize faces. I don’t want to say too much about this story other because it NEEDS to be read. It’s one of the most emotionally impactful stories I’ve read in a very long time. It renders the unimaginable loss of a child real. A vitally powerful ending to an incredible book.

Phew…Axel’s writing here is just next level. His prose is layered with literary reference ranging from Sherlock Holmes, to Shakespeare, to Dante. You can find more about the references he tucked into his prose here.

 

Punhos Sagrados and Jamais Vu are my personal standouts of The Soul Standard. However, if any of these authors are new to you, then I think The Soul Standard is a good entry point for you to dig into. Each author’s distinct voice can be found here, and it’s a testament of their skill to pull off a shared world as interesting as this one. Each author has something unique and interesting to offer you as a reader, and you won’t be disappointed. This has all the smatterings of black, white, grey, and red you could possibly imagine. Bleak, violent, and noir as fuck it’s a collection unlike any other.

10/10*

Buy this book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Dzanc’s website
Twitter(s): Caleb, Nik, Richard, Axel

*For the future, will be grading reviews on a 10 point scale
**Bonus content I: a 4-essay article detailing how the book came to be, each author’s writing process, and building a shared world**
**Bonus content II: Booked. Podcast interviewed the four authors. Here is part 1 (with Caleb and Nik) and part 2 (with Richard and Axel)**

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Micro-review: Serious Moonlight by Amanda Gowin & Craig Wallwork

Serious Moonlight is comprised of “The Aquarium” by Amanda Gowin and “Stilled Longing” by Craig Wallwork. Both revel in love and the brutality of it in its execution, both in its physical manifestation in Gowin’s story, and emotional in Wallwork’s story. “The Aquarium” deals with a couple—Christoph, and an unnamed woman, the escalation of violence between them and outside of them, and how they transition to states of love. Both are murderers, one for hire (it seems), and the other for pleasure. It’s a dark, volatile little thing, but it handles sex, more violent/BDSM style kinks well. “Stilled Longing” is the tale of a woman born in strange circumstances, and the ways her slow, crippling physical disfigurement affect her view of the world. It also touches on the different kinds of familial love—the longing for it, the absence of it, and expressing those feelings.

All in all, they’re both beautiful stories. Well written, and the care for each story shines through. Definitely worth .99c and 25-30 minutes of your life.

Buy it on Amazon
Find Amanda on Twitter
**Craig isn’t on social media

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Book Review: A Collapse of Horses (2016)

by Christopher Novas

A COLLAPSE OF HORSES by Brian Evenson
Published by: Coffee House Press
Release date: February 9, 2016

Have you ever seen a shadow on the highway pass by your car faster than your eye could follow? Have you ever seen shapes you thought were human, but on a closer look weren’t? The perception of reality, the exploration of consciousness rendering the world accurately (to whom, no one is sure), the choices we make or choose not to make, amongst many other questions and concerns are found in A COLLAPSE OF HORSES.

The opening story “Black Bark” follows two men, Sugg and Rawley, out in the expansive west escaping some sort of conflict earlier in the narrative. Sugg has been shot in the leg, has been bleeding for some time and is waiting for refuge at a cabin just around the bend. It continues on and on, bend after bend this supposed cabin never comes into view. They stop at a cave, a “good luck charm” goes missing, and Sugg starts to tell the story of Black Bark—a piece of wood that is found in some man’s pocket with no reason as to how it got there. From there, the flickering fire, the man bleeding half to death, and story of Black Bark brings the reader to a sense of dread and terror. An outstanding opener for this collection.

“A Report” is a Kafka-esque story of man who has made some sort of report to an authority figure, presents it, and is subsequently thrown into a prison. Why? Well, our protagonist is unsure. Was it a missing detail, a lack of information, was his presentation subpar? All of these questions are swirling in his mind, all the while being systematically tortured both psychologically and physically, with no real explanation to his predicament. The tricks the mind plays in trying to stay sane in an insane environment, the pained and tortured returning that pain twofold, threefold, becoming the instigators of another’s misery.

The titular story “A Collapse of Horses” follows a man who comes upon a stable of horses all lying on the ground, are they dead, sleeping, barely breathing? He has never seen horses lie down. An accident happens at his place of work, and his skull is cracked in the process. He awakes to a home that stretches and bends, is unsure of the number of children he has, and he tries relentlessly to return to the horses that are neither dead nor alive. This is a story of a man’s slow descent into madness.

“A Seaside Town” is an excellent example of what Evenson can do with the Weird. Throughout the story reality transmogrifies, shaping horrors that are seen and unseen in the worst ways imaginable. Without an accurate word count, it’s a novelette or novella that just needs to be read to fully appreciate the quiet terror that unfolds in this story. It’s unsettling.

Possibly my favorite story in the collection is “The Dust” a science fiction story with elements of noir, mystery, horror, and thriller all packed into one novelette/novella. It follows a crew of space miners digging into a meteor for resources to bring back home. A never ending dust slowly accumulates within their mining station, and this is the least of their worries. A depleting reserve of oxygen, and the death of one of their crew members follows. You would think that Evenson would dive right into sci-fi aspects of this story, but he pulls them back and tells a tale of paranoia, betrayal, murder, and survival in the cold, black reaches of space. Evenson took a scalpel and tore into my brain with this one. It haunted me for days.

“Any Corpse” begins with: “When she woke, a shower of raw flesh had fallen in the field.” I don’t need to say any more.

I could continue on about all of the stories in this collection, but this post would go into the thousand of words. To put it simply, Evenson is a writers writer. His shadow is large in the American landscape. He is a genuine master of paranoia and the uncanny. He challenges his readers by disrupting their perception of reality, what tricks the mind plays at any given time, to any given person with the right circumstances (or none at all). He guides to the deepest reaches of your mind, leaving you in the depths of dread.

Buy A COLLAPSE OF HORSES direct from Coffee House Press
Amazon
Indie Bound
Barnes & Noble
Visit Brian’s website

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Book Review: PAPER TIGERS by Damien Angelica Walters (2016)

by Christopher M. Novas
PAPER TIGERS by Damien Angelica Walters
Published by: Dark House Press
Release Date: February 29, 2016

This is the debut novel from author Damien Angelica Walters, and goddamn, what a debut.

Our protagonist is Alison, a woman who is terribly disfigured after an accidental fire takes everything from her: her beauty, her husband, her hope, her love, but most importantly, her normalcy. She is all consumed in her trauma, becoming a recluse, mostly abandoning the outside world in favor of her apartment where no one sees our Monstergirl. One of the only people she truly allows to come into her life is her mother, exerting Alison to do her upmost best to return to society, to try to be the normal daughter she’s always known, but Alison’s trauma is all too powerful as it is personified into three emotions: Red (anger), Purple (fear), and Yellow (sadness). They are the voices that coax her into her recluse, voices she cannot escape. She instead chooses to walk the empty streets of her town in the witching hours, covered in scarves, gloves, and long coats as to avoid any person that may cast their judgmental eyes on her. She is fascinated with collecting photo albums, living vicariously through the fictional lives she imagines for these people. This is her thread to normalcy, a hope found in old picture books, and beautiful, whole people.

One night, Alison stumbles upon an antique store which curiously opens at 3AM. She is entranced by the old photo album displayed on the windowsill, and although she is terrified to interact with anyone, she steps in and hurriedly buys the album. Safely at home she finds that the book only opens to the first page, with all the other pages stuck. The picture displayed is of a singular man, George. She imagines his personality, and his favorite drink. From this moment forward, weird events start to happen surrounding the photo album from smelling tobacco smoke, to hearing music coming from the album, evolving and morphing to the point where Alison is sucked into the photo album itself, into a house she doesn’t recognize. There, she is whole — the missing digits on her right hand are miraculously all there, her right eye and right breast are no longer missing, and her skin…her beautiful, beautiful skin is back glowing in its normalcy, not the ruined mess of burnt skin plastered together by skin grafts. When she manages to leave the photo album, the miracle is still there, albeit momentarily. The scars and missing parts return, her trauma comes back more powerful than ever, and her only solution is to return to the paper world again and again, gorging on the possibility of being whole permanently, feeding the paper tiger all along the way.

This novel is beautiful in its restrained, yet lyrical voice, not a single word is misplaced or misused. Walters makes Alison’s despair and pain vividly real, depressingly so. It eviscerates you from page one. Alison is the most haunted person in the entire novel, tied to her desperation to escape her identity as a Monstergirl. Walters does a masterful job of putting us in the forefront of what it means to be a survivor, with all of its crushing ugliness.

More than a horror novel, more than a haunted house novel, this is a novel of survival. A novel filled with real trauma. A novel of someone pushed to the brink of existence, broken and lost. This is a novel filled to the brim with the absence of the things we take for granted in our every day lives: our sanity, our immersion into the world, our lives filled with the love of others, but mostly our self-love.

When you have lost everything, what lengths would you go to have it all back? Would you open the tigers cage?

Buy PAPER TIGERS from: AmazonBarnes & Noble, Books A Million, Books Depository, Curbside Splendor, or find an independent bookstore near you with Indie Bound.
You can find out more about Dark House Press: Here
To find out more about Damien Angelica Walters, visit her website.
Follow her on Twitter.

*I received an ARC of this book in return for a review.
**Editors note: as is our policy, we will be posting this review on Amazon & Goodreads in the following week, as those platforms help authors reach wider audiences.

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