The Suffering by Rin Chupeco – Excerpt & Giveaway!

Friday, August 21st, 2015

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The Suffering

By Rin Chupeco

September 1, 2015; Hardcover ISBN 9781492629832; Trade Paper ISBN 9781492629849

Book Info:

Title: The Suffering

Author: Rin Chupeco

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Praise for the Suffering:

"Rin Chupeco's
The Suffering is a horror lover's dream: murders, possessed dolls, and desiccated corpses. I cringed. I grimaced. You won't soon forget this exorcist and his vengeful water ghost."

–Kendare Blake, author of
Anna Dressed in Blood

“Chupeco deftly combines ancient mysticism with contemporary dilemmas that teens face, immersing readers in horrors both supernatural
and manmade. The Suffering is a chilling swim through the murky waters of morality.”

–Carly Anne West, author of
The Bargaining and The Murmuring

Summary:

Breathtaking and haunting, Rin Chupeco’s second novel is a chilling companion to her debut, The Girl from the Well.

The darkness will find you.

Seventeen-year-old Tark knows what it is to be powerless. But Okiku changed that. A restless spirit who ended life as a victim and
started death as an avenger, she’s groomed Tark to destroy the wicked. But when darkness pulls them deep into Aokigahara, known as Japan’s suicide forest, Okiku’s justice becomes blurred, and Tark is the one who will pay the price…

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Book Review: nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery & the Macabre, Nancy Kilpatrick & Caro Soles, eds. (2015)

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

There’s a piece by 16-year-old Margaret Atwood! Eeep!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence, as well as transphobic and homophobic bullying and suicide.)

I consider myself a bit of a Poe fangirl. Not to the tune of being able to reenact entire scenes from The Tomb of Ligeia or keeping a raven as a pet; but as in the first (and only!) gift my father every personally picked out for me was a leather-bound collection of Poe’s complete works (I’m vegan now, but I keep it around for sentimental reasons) and I might, one day, name one of my rescue dogs Annabel Lee. It’s fair to say that I’m interested, but not obsessed.

So when I spotted nEvermore! in Library Thing’s July batch, it was Poe’s name that grabbed by attention – but Margaret Atwood’s that really sealed the deal. If I’m a bit of a Poe fangirl, then I’m freaking Annie Wilkes when it comes to Atwood. I exaggerate, but not by much.

Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles, nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery & the Macabre features twenty-two stories that are inspired by Poe; contain elements from Poe’s oeuvre; and/or are retellings of his stories. Some are more modern takes on Poe, while others employ similar language and have the same weirdly sinister vibe. If you’re a hardcore Poe fan, probably you’ll get more out of the stories than the casual or non-fan; there’s a lot of name-dropping, as well as references to real, historical events from Poe’s life. However, I wouldn’t limit the audience just to those familiar with Poe; many of the stories are solid enough to stand on their own. Bonus points: Each story is prefaced with a brief introduction by the author(s), for added context.

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Book Review: The Girl from the Well, Rin Chupeco (2014)

Friday, June 12th, 2015

“An onryuu with a conscience, kami help us.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through NetGalley.)

I have always striven for detachment, a disinterest in the living. Their preoccupation with each breath of air, the brevity of their lifetimes, and their numerous flaws do not inspire sympathy in me. I can plumb their minds and wander the places they frequent, but they hold little significance.

I do not care to remember names. I do not care to recognize faces.

But this one is called Tarquin Holloway.

He has a cousin named Callie Starr.

His eyes are very bright blue.

He is lonely.

It is not in my nature to be interested in the living.

But there are many things, I have found, that defy nature.

“An onryuu with a conscience, kami help us.”

Should a person experience a brutal and unwarranted death at the hands of another, she does do not go gentle into that good night. Rather than continue on to the afterlife – whatever that may entail; it’s not for the narrator to say – she remains in a sort of purgatory, her spirit tethered to her murderer. Only when her death is avenged, and her killer brought to justice, is her soul free to move on. If she still wants to, that is.

Okiku is a yuurei – a spirit that cannot rest. Three hundred years ago, the 16-year-old girl was tortured and murdered, her body tossed down a well like so much trash, at the hands of a retainer – and with her beloved Lord’s permission. In the centuries since, Okiku has roamed the world, hunting down those who prey on children: murderers, rapists, and pedophiles. Fueled by vengeance, Okiku is an especially powerful yuurei: an onryuu, able to harm the living.

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Book Review: The Ice Twins: A Novel, S.K. Tremayne (2015)

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

This Book is Bonkers

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and violence, including rough sex.)

“Mummy, why do you keep calling me Kirstie?”

I say nothing. The silence is ringing. I speak:

“Sorry, sweetheart. What?”

“Why do you keep calling me Kirstie, Mummy? Kirstie is dead. It was Kirstie that died. I’m Lydia.”

It’s been thirteen months since Sarah’s six-year-old daughter Lydia – one half of the “Ice Twins” – died in a tragic fall from her parents’ first-floor balcony in Devon. In the wake of the accident, the family all but fell apart: Sarah spiraled into a morass of grief and guilt – for it was she who was supposed to be watching the girls that fateful night – while her husband Angus found solace in the bottom of a whiskey bottle. An angry, sometimes-violent drunk like his father, Angus eventually was fired from his architecture job after assaulting his boss in an alcohol-fueled rage.

And the remaining daughter Kirstie? Well, she’s adrift without her other half. Best friends and then some, Kirstie and Lydia lived in their own little world. They had their own secret language and elaborate in-jokes, and in the months leading up to the accident, their identities had become so intertwined that they often dressed alike, swapped personas, and referred to themselves as a single entity, e.g., “Mummy, come and sit between me so you can read to us.” Now that Lydia’s gone, Kirstie is an island: alone, apart, desolate.

So what could be better than relocating Kirstie to an actual island? (Yes, that was sarcasm. Sarah and Angus are the worst.)

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Book Review: The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma (2015)

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Dark, Haunting, Beautiful – One of My Favorites of 2015

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC for review from book blogger Miss Print. Also, trigger warning for sexual harassment and allusions to rape.)

Home is where the heart is, and where the hell is, and where the hate is, and where the hopelessness is. Which made Aurora Hills pretty much like home.

Amber Smith is a little more than three years into four-year sentence at Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center for manslaughter. After she ages out, she’ll be transferred to an adult prison for killing her abusive stepfather, a crime she may or may not have committed at the tender age of thirteen.

Then one hot, humid August night, the cell doors come open – and for a few glorious hours (no one quite knows how long the power was out and the COs caught unawares; it’s as though time has stopped, or lost all meaning), the forty-one girls housed at Aurora Hills get a taste of the freedom long denied them. Some, like Amber’s cellmate D’amour, make a run for it – only to be carved open by the barbed wire atop the first fence, and then burned to a crisp by the middle, electrified fence. Others overtake the various wings – A, B, C, even D, which houses the suicides – ransacking the canteen and causing general mayhem.

But Amber? Despite her protestations that none of them are special (“…the exact opposite of special. We were bad. Broken. It was up to the state to rehabilitate us into something worthy, if it even could.”), that night Amber is afforded something very special indeed: a glimpse of their future.

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Book Review: A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre, DeAnna Knippling (2014)

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Stories within Stories

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review though Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

It was we crows who took your daughter, in case you were wondering. She didn’t run away. We had–I had–been watching her for some time, listening to her tell stories in the grass behind the house. She would sit near the chicken coop and watch the white chickens pick at the dirt, pulling up fat worms and clipping grasshoppers out of the air as they jumped toward the fields.

Some of them were good stories. Some of them were bad. But that’s what decided it, even more than any issue of mercy or salvation or anything else. Crows are, for one, possessive of stories. And also by then I had pecked almost all the elders into coming to listen to her at least once, except Facunde, who was then mad and responded to nobody’s pecking, not that I had had the courage to exactly take my beak to her. “She is like a daughter to me,” I had pled with the others. “She listens.” They laughed at me, they rattled their beaks, they came and heard her and were convinced, or at least bullied into pretending they were convinced.

We took her on the same cold winter day that you traded your son to the fairies, the wind blowing in cold gray threads, ruffling our feathers. It had snowed a few days before that, a storm that had killed your husband, or so it was said. The wind had snatched the snow out onto the prairie, hiding it in crevices. It had been a dry year, and even though it was still too cold to melt the snow, the thirsty dirt still found places to tuck it away in case of a thaw.

I stamped my feet on a sleeping branch while the others argued. Some argued that we should wait for spring. So many things are different, in the spring. But old Loyolo insisted: no, if we were to take the child, we would have to take her then and there: there had been at least one death already, and no one had heard the babe’s cry for hours.

We covered the oak trees, thousands of us, so many that the branches creaked and swayed under our weight. I don’t know if you noticed us, before it was too late. You were, it is to be admitted, busy.

The girl played on the swings, rocking herself back and forth in long, mournful creaks. She wore a too-small padded jacket and a dress decorated in small flowers. She was so clean that she still smelled of soap. Her feet were bare under their shoes, the skin scabbed and dry, almost scaly. Her wrists were pricked with gooseflesh, and her hair whipped in thin, colorless threads across her face as the wind caught it. The house had the smell of fresh death, under the peeling paint and the dusty windows, and seemed to murmur with forgotten languages, none of which were languages of love or tenderness. Afternoon was sinking into evening. The girl’s breath smelled like hunger.

“Now!” called old Loyolo, at some signal that not even I could have told you. And thousands of birds swept out of the trees toward her. From the middle of it, I can tell you, it seemed a kind of nightmare. Wings in my face, claws in my feathers. The sun was temporarily snuffed out, it was a myriad of bright slices reflected off black wings…

DeAnna Knippling’s A Murder of Crows is, at its heart, a love letter to the art of storytelling. A collection of short stories which forms the backbone of a larger narrative, the sixteen tales here – macabre, horrific, sometimes surreal – are shared with a grieving young girl by the murder (flock) of crows who rescued her from her wicked, murderous mother. (Crows being both connoisseurs and collectors of the oral tradition, natch.) Their story, told between the lines and in the margins of the other sixteen tales, is the seventeenth piece in this delightfully dark anthology.

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Book Review: Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire, Amber Dawn, ed. (2009)

Monday, January 12th, 2015

“My terror is terror’s ubiquity.”

three out of five stars

(Trigger warning for rape. Also, some of the individual story descriptions may contain vague spoilers. Read at your own risk!)

In Fist of the Spider Woman, fifteen daring authors frankly ask themselves, “What am I afraid of?” The aim is not to quell our fears, but to embrace them. In doing so, their work takes on an entirely different form than the familiar thrills of contemporary Hollywood horror films.

Between the blurbs on the back cover and the wonderfully creepy artwork (by Julie Morstad) gracing its front, Fist of the Spider Woman is not at all what I expected. For starters, most of the stories aren’t particularly scary. With a few notable exceptions, you won’t find many supernatural baddies or serial slashers here. The fears explored within these pages tend towards the mundane as opposed to the otherworldly: Carrying on after the death of a loved one. Embracing vulnerability by learning to trust others. Accepting help. Being caught by karma. Our culture of fear. All of which is sprinkled with a liberal helping of sex. In fact, many of the stories in Fist read like erotica over horror (e.g., “Every Dark Desire” – vampire dominatrix porn; “Slug” – worm porn; “In Your Arms Forever” – ghost porn).

Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not what I thought I was getting when I picked this anthology up. (Though I must admit that many of the rape scenes turned my stomach; not for the mere presence of rape, which is disturbing enough on its own, but because the victims often come to enjoy their non-consensual abuse.)

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Mini-Review: Wolverton Station, Joe Hill (2014)

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Cheeseburgers and Entitlement

five out of five stars

“I knew by the smell of you. You Americans have different accents – your southern accent, your California-surfer accent, your Noo Yawk accent.” Affecting an atrocious faux-Queens accent as he said it. “But you all smell the same.” […]

“What do we smell like?” Saunders asked.

“Like cheeseburgers,” said the wolf, and he barked with laughter. “And entitlement.”

When Saunders, aka “The Woodcutter” – a hatchet man for global coffee company Jimi Coffee – spots a wolf on the platform as his train pulls into Wolverton Station, he’s hardly surprised: his London trip has been plagued by protestors angered by the expansion of Jimi Coffee into British borders. Saunders’ M.O. is as ruthless as it is simple: find a quaint mom-n-pop store, set up shop nearby, and slowly but surely drive them out of business, even if it means running at a loss for months or even years. First Main Street, then the world. For this he earns a seven-figure salary, even as black and brown children labor in Jimi Coffee’s factories for mere pennies. The giant Uncle Sam effigy, complete with a larger-than-life, pink-as-a-baby’s-bottom penis? It comes with the ribbon cutting.

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Book Review: Out of Tune, Jonathan Maberry, ed. (2014)

Monday, December 1st, 2014

A Solid Collection of Short Horror/Fantasy

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I receive a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Also, the story summaries may include spoilers, so skip them if you’d rather read the anthology with fresh eyes. Trigger warning for rape.)

Confession time. I requested a review copy of Out of Tune based solely on the merits of one of its contributors: Seanan McGuire. I devoured the Newsflesh trilogy (penned under the pseudonym Mira Grant) and thought that her contribution (“Each to Each”) was the single best thing in Lightspeed’s special “Women Destroy SF” issue (a magazine filled with awesome things, mind you). I recognized some of the other names, but no one struck a chord like McGuire. Additionally, my interest in old ballads pretty much begins and ends with covers recorded by my favorite folk singers – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie. I didn’t really have any expectations, good or bad, for this collection.

Overall, I came away pleasantly surprised. The fourteen stories in Out of Tune run the gamut: there’s lots of horror and fantasy, peppered with a little romance and some good, old-fashioned ghost stories. Some, like “Wendy, Darling,” incorporate elements of other, much-loved tales, while others have an air of historical fiction; here I’m thinking of “In Arkham Town, Where I Was Bound,” which features Edgar Allen Poe as the incidental narrator. The authors’ respective senses of humor – whether wry, playful, or just downright wicked – are evident throughout. A few of the stories are remarkably poignant and painfully beautiful; “Driving Jenny Home,” I’m looking at you. As for the Big Bads, you’ll spot a number of usual suspects – ghosts, demons, mermaids, and wicked women – as well as villains less common to ballads, such as gods from Norse mythology.

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Mini-Review: Thumprint: A Story, Joe Hill (2012)

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Cliffhanger ending is cliffhangery.

four out of five stars

You received a two-hundred-dollar-a-month bonus for every month you spent in the combat zone, and a part of her had relished the fact that her own life was valued so cheap. Mal would not have expected more.

But it didn’t occur to her, when she first learned she was going to Iraq, that they paid you that money for more than just the risk to your own life. It wasn’t a question of what could happen to you, but also a matter of what you might be asked to do to others. […]

Two hundred dollars a month was what it cost to make a torturer out of her.

After her tour in Iraq, PFC Mallory Grennan returned to her childhood home in Hammett, New York – newly empty since the death of her father, also a war veteran, just ten hours before she set foot back on US soil. Whereas her father had saved lives as a medic, Mal denigrated them: you wouldn’t know it from the photographs, but she was part of the naked pyramid fiasco at Abu Ghraib. And that appears to be the least of it: as a cop in the army, she regularly humiliated and assaulted suspected insurgents.

Now her past has followed her home, in the form of mysterious thumbprints, blank ink standing out starkly against white paper, left in her mailbox, under her door, on her windshield. Mal’s wronged so many people, both in the Middle East and right here at home; which one of them hates her so much that he wishes her dead?

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Book Review: Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes (2014)

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

The Shining Girls just got bumped to the top of my TBR pile!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program. Also, trigger warning for sexual assault.)

There’s a monster loose in Detroit. A whole lot of them, actually.

First and foremost is the so-called “Detroit Monster,” whose story forms the backbone of Broken Monsters: The sick you-know-what leaving a trail of dead bodies disguised as art installations across the city, starting with an eleven-year-old boy named Daveyton Lafonte. From the navel up, the killer fused his mutilated body onto the lower portion of a deer’s using meat glue. (Google it.)

But there’s also Philip Low, the middle-aged electrical engineer with the undeservedly kind face, who trolls the ‘net for young girls using the pseudonym “VelvetBoy”; Jonno, a “citizen journalist” from New York City, who exploits tragedy for page hits under the guise of journalistic integrity; and the adolescent boys of Hines High School, who think nothing of sharing a video of their classmate’s sexual assault – and then re-enacting the trauma for laughs.

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Book Review: The Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland, Joe Hill & Charles P. Wilson III (2014)

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Christmas in August!

five out of five stars

NOS4A2 was one of my favorite new releases last year; I devoured it in a matter of days and then promptly added all of Joe Hill’s titles to my wishlist. (Too late for Christmas, but that’s the way the gingerbread crumbles.) So you can only imagine how excited I was when I heard that Hill was resurrecting the twisted innerscape of Charles Manx III in graphic novel format. I pre-ordered The Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland as soon as it became available on Amazon, and have spent the last six months eagerly awaiting its arrival.

The Wraith is everything I wanted and more. It collects issues 1-6 of Welcome to Christmasland in a lovely (wait, did I say lovely? I meant nightmarish!) hardcover book, supplemented with oodles and oodles of extra artwork. The storyline briefly explores Charlie Manx’s childhood in the Wild West (we’re talking late 1800s here); after being violently assaulted and raped by one of his mother’s johns, Charles taps into the mysterious and unexpected power of his Fleet Fantom sled to exact his revenge.

Fast-forward to 1988, when a trio of escaped cons – including Dewey Hansom, a sleazy, child-raping music agent who also just so happens to be Manx’s current accomplice – calls on Manx for help. Manx promises to make them disappear so that the authorities will never find them; naturally, he loads them into the Wraith and takes them to Christmasland to meet his kids (and by “meet” I mean at the end of a very long sword). But Chess Llewellyn has an ace up his sleeve: balloons filled with delirium-101, sent to him by his dead son Adam, whose untimely death Chess was about to serve seven years for avenging.

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Book Review: The Troop, Nick Cutter (2014)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Things that make you go “EWWWWWWWWWW!”

four out of five stars

Fact One: a boat had arrived.

Fact Two: he and the boys were on an isolated island over an hour from home. No weapons other than their knives – blades no longer than three and a half inches, as outlined in the Scout Handbook – and a flare gun. It was night. They were alone.

It was supposed to be a last hurrah for the boys of Troop Fifty-Two.

At fourteen years old, the guys – Kent, Ephraim, Max, Shelley, and Newton – had come up together through Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, and Venturers, but most (save for the ever-nerdy Newt) now felt that they were too old to be running around in the wilderness, earning merit badges for activities as dorky as bird watching and first aid. And so the late-autumn camping trip to Falstaff Island was to be their final adventure together, much to Scoutmaster Tim’s disappointment.

Their peace and quiet is interrupted on the very first night, with the unexpected arrival of an emaciated and ravenous stranger in a speed boat. While Tim attempts to treat the obviously ill man (in his other life, the Scoutmaster is a GP), there’s no cure for what ills him. “Typhoid Tom,” as he’d later come to be known in the papers, is Patient Zero in an experiment gone horribly wrong…or horribly right, depending on which project backer you’re talking to.

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Book Review: Behind Dark Doors, Susan May (2014)

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

“The War Veteran” stands out…

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program.)

Susan May’s Behind Dark Doors is a collection of six short (most of them very short!) stories of suspense and horror:

“Hell’s Kitchen” – Game show contestant Gordon (named after Gordon Ramsey, natch) isn’t just competing for his own cooking show – but for his very life. (Hint: You don’t want to know what’s in the beef bourguignon.)

“Mitigating Circumstances” – Mom doesn’t want to hear that her delicious little baby boy Ben is a bully. But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“I Hate Emma Carter” – When popular girl Angela bullies newcomer Emma, her hatred threatens to consume her.

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Book Review: X-Files/30 Days of Night, Steve Niles et al. (2011)

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Don’t MAKE him say the v-word, Scully!

four out of five stars

When the grisly remains of some sixteen truck drivers are discovered by plow driver Henry-Lee “Patches” Brown, Mulder and Scully are called out to Wainwright, Alaska to investigate. Decapitated, drained of blood, and hung atop a 40-foot pole, these clearly aren’t the victims of an ordinary serial killer – despite what their colleagues at the FBI believe. Mulder and Scully’s investigation leads them to an abandoned 19th century ship, a limbless old man, an ancient artifact, and a young girl covered in third-degree burns (and then…not). All the while, they must contend with the 24-hour darkness that has enveloped wintry Wainwright.

A fan of the 2007 film 30 Days of Night, I was researching the comic book series by Steve Niles, trying to decide whether I should give it a try, when I stumbled upon this crossover series. Whereas the 30 Days of Night comics generally have poor to fair reviews, this one came highly recommended. But hey, they had me at “The X-Files“!

Steve Niles and Adam Jones (of Tool fame) expertly capture the tone and spirit of the show in this adaptation: the wry humor, the amiable-yet-sometimes-exasperated banter, the sense of camaraderie between our favorite two federal agents. The writers nail the characters of Mulder and Scully (and Skinner!), even if the art isn’t always spot-on. As I read, I could easily envision this story on the small screen. (Or large. Someone make this happen please! Given the comic’s final panel, it would make an excellent sequel to the 30 Days of Night film!)

The story wasn’t quite as long as I would have liked, but then I’d rather the writers leave me wanting more rather than wishing for less.

Whether you count yourself a member of the X-Files or 30 Days fandom, X-Files/30 Days of Night belongs in your book pile.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Carvings Collection, Drake Vaughn (2013)

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A Mixed Bag of Horror Stories

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation. Also, trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

The Carvings Collection contains ten horror stories from the “crinkled mind” of Drake Vaughn. The stories range from conceivably true crime (fundamentalists do the darnedest things!) to the supernatural/fantastical (vampires, werewolves, and giant cockroaches, oh my!) and “psychological tales of imagination gone wrong.”

Dolls – A young girl’s menagerie of dolls begins to act out scenes of abuse on each other – and on Ella, their owner. In this story, it’s the adults who are the real monsters.

Driver’s Seat – A woman dealing with apparent PTSD in the wake of a carjacking/murder spree reconnects with her husband through violence. (Or regains control by embracing her darker impulses? I don’t know, I was both confused and somewhat disturbed by this point.)

Master Key – A quartet of teens find more than they bargained for when they cut class to light up and happen upon the nether regions of their high school, which was built on the ruins of a (supposedly!) abandoned paper mill.

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Book Review: The First Days: As the World Dies, Rhiannon Frater (2011)

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Don’t Mess With — BRAAAAAAAAINS!!!

three out of five stars

The Zombocalypse has arrived, and survival is as much a matter of dumb luck as it is skill and cunning – a fact quickly established in the first few pages of The First Days. Texas prosecutor Katie is on her way to work when the traffic procession in which she’s stuck is swarmed by a group of the undead. Katie barely manages to escape with her life, thanks to an older gent in a pickup who sacrifices his meat suit for hers. Katie races home, only to find her beloved wife Lydia eviscerating the mailman. She takes off in confused horror, and serendipitously crosses paths with Jenni, a long-suffering housewife whose abusive husband Lloyd has just made a meal of their children. In a very Thelma & Louise moment, the two women embark on a road trip, traversing the rural Texas countryside in search of Jenni’s surviving stepson, Jason, and a safe place to call home.

The First Days: As the World Dies is a solid enough zombie story that, for whatever reason, stopped just short of sucking me in. The story – a kind of cross between The Walking Dead, The Zombie Survival Guide, and every Romero movie ever made – primarily focuses on the tenuous task of rebuilding while swarms of zombies continue to beat down your door. The logistical planning – of which there’s more than a little – didn’t interest me so much, but I loved the many pop culture references. Frater’s obviously a huge fan of the genre. Originally self-published, the Tor reprint maintains some of that indie feel (and not in a bad way). Puzzling, though, are the many punctuation errors that managed to make it into the new version: missing periods, spaces both before and after periods, etc.

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The Great CriFSMas Food (and More) Roundup, 2013 edition!

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

It felt like I did a ridiculous amount of baking this Christmas – so, when I went and looked back at last year’s roundup, I nearly fainted in disbelief. (Full disclosure: there may have also been a food coma involved, due to the copious amounts of sugar I’ve been ingesting.) Did I seriously make a dozen plus batches of cookies last year? Little old me?

Fun story: after feeling super-smug and self-satisfied over my achievement of baking FIVE WHOLE BATCHES of cookies in one day, I headed on over to tumblr – where some lady posted about the 40 donuts and multiple trays of cookies she baked in one afternoon. Whoops! There goes my self-confidence!

So anyway, here’s the Great CriFSMas Food Roundup, 2013 edition! But with bonus x-mas presents and vegan pop culture observations.

First up: the noms. As per usual, let’s start with dessert, shall we? All the cookies are from Kelly Peloza’s The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, a review of which I’ll probably have for y’all soon. Unless. Maybe I need to try out a few more recipes? You know, for the love of science and books and all that is holy and sugar-dusted.

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Glazed Rum Raisin Cookies – With their copious amounts of liquor and strong rummy taste, these cookies aren’t for kids. Very tasty and easy to bake, though I opted to make my glaze into more of an icing, so as not to risk the cookies sticking to one another during storage. If you go this route, start out with less rum. I ended up with way more icing than I could use. Or drink! (Yes, I actually tried that.)

2013-12-22 - VCC Caramel Pecan Cookies - 0003

Chewy Caramel Pecan Cookies – SO GOOD! Caramel and pecans, what’s not to love? Well, the cookies’ inherent stickiness, for starters: I had to refrigerate the sheet of cookies for about ten minutes before I was able to peel them from the parchment paper without tearing the cookies to shreds. I wonder if my batter was too wet; the caramel pecan mix didn’t get especially thick, which resulted in a very sticky cookie dough. Further experimentation may be required.

Also, pro tip: these cookies have mad spread, so space them far, far apart. As in four cookies to a medium-sized tray. No kidding!

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Book Review: NOS4A2, Joe Hill (2013)

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Dude!

five out of five stars

“High-pitched whine.” (page 663)

If I had to choose just one line in NOS4A2 to sum up my feelings, “High-pitched whine.” would be it. Never mind that it’s in reference to a motorcycle. (Or an explosion; it’s not entirely clear.) All the better, actually, seeing as some of the noises I made while reading this book can hardly be called human.

Equal parts horror and fantasy, with a dash o’ science fiction and coming of age thrown in for good measure, NOS4A2 had me hooked from the get-go. Without divulging too much of the plot, let’s just say that NOS4A2 imagines a world in which certain people, with the help of special objects, are able to cut holes in the fabric of reality and travel in between worlds both real and imagined. With a little help from her bottomless bag of Scrabble tiles, Maggie is able to read the future, while Vic’s Raleigh Tuff Burner bike can conjure up a bridge that will take her wherever she needs to go. But the knife cuts both ways; the more the girls use their respective talismans, the greater the toll it takes. Maggie develops a crippling stutter (and, in time, resorts to self-mutilation and drug abuse), while Vic’s metaphorical bridge begins to crumble – and with it goes her sanity.

But not everyone possessed of these powers use them for good; and sometimes, the ability is itself inherently evil. Take, for example, 116-year-old Charlie Manx, a psychic vampire whose 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith is powered by the souls of children (the car’s vanity plates read “NOS4A2”; go ahead, sound it out!). Several times a year, Manx and his accomplice kidnap a young child and ferry her away to Christmasland, an imaginary world made real by Manx and his ride. Here they’re fated to spend eternity, cold, unfeeling husks of the happy children they once were. One day in 1996, 17-year-old Vic runs away from home after an especially vicious fight with her mother. She dusts off her trusty Raleigh and goes looking for trouble – and she runs straight into Charlie Manx.

If, like my husband, you feel like I’ve already spoiled the story for you, fear not: there’s another sixteen years that I didn’t even touch! It’s a long and sprawling tale that doesn’t end with Manx’s arrest. Or death.

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Book Review: Joyland, Stephen King (2013)

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Stephen King Visits the Carnival

four out of five stars

* Caution: Minor spoilers ahead! *

“Those are things that happened once upon a time and long ago, in a magical year when oil sold for eleven dollars a barrel. The year I got my damn heart broke. The year I lost my virginity. The year I saved a nice little girl from choking and a fairly nasty old man from dying of a heart attack (the first one, at least). The year a madman almost killed me on a Ferris wheel. The year I wanted to see a ghost and didn’t…although I guess at least one of them saw me. That was also the year I learned to talk a secret language, and how to dance the Hokey Pokey in a dog costume. The year I discovered that there are worse things than losing the girl.

“The year I was twenty-one, and still a greenie.”

Ghost story, murder mystery, coming of age story, supernatural thriller – Joyland is all of this and then some, spanning a variety of genres stitched together in a way that’s uniquely Stephen King. While the book’s artwork suggests a dime store pulp novel (and yes, there is a bit of that), Joyland is so much more: spooky and at times unexpectedly touching, with plenty of Scoobie Gang fun thrown in.

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