Serena’s Review: “The Scarlet Circus”

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Book: “The Scarlet Circus” by Jane Yolen

Publishing Info: Tachyon Publications, February 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: “The Scarlet Circus,” the fourth volume in Yolen’s award-winning short fiction series brings you passionate treasures and unexpected transformations. This bewitching assemblage, with an original introduction from Brandon Sanderson, is an ideal read for anyone who appreciates witty, compelling, and classic romantic fantasy.

Review: Jane Yolen is a powerhouse in the fantasy genre. She’s written over 400 novels, short stories, poems, and essays. Beyond that, her work has claimed numerous awards over the many decades she’s been writing, not least of which include a Caldecott Medal and numerous Nebula Awards. Such is the case that she’s one of those authors whose backlist is so intimidating that no matter how many books of hers I read, whenever I pick up a recent one, I’m immediately struck with a sense of guilt for not having gotten to more! So I was happy to see that she was releasing a short story collection this year (with a focus on romance, just in time for Valentine’s Day!), as that seemed like an easy, bite-size re-entry point to an author who deserves much more space on this blog.

This is a short story collection, so there’s really no point in including a summary paragraph. I also won’t be going over every single story in this collection. But I will say right here that I’d struggle to rank these stories or try to include any as “least favorites.” So right here at the top, this is a general recommendation for this collection, and any fans of fantasy short stories should definitely check this one out.

The collection covers a wide swatch of fantasy genres, including fairytale retellings (“Alice in Wonderland”), reimaginings of popular tales (like King Auther and “Romeo and Juliet”), time travel, and even a clever take on the footnotes of an essay that has disappeared after being written in invisible ink. Interspersed with all of these tales, Yolen has included her own poetry. While I do think that her prose is stronger than her poems, these were also nice breaks between the stories, and will likely appeal to those who like a bit more variety in their reading experience.

I did have a few favorites, however. While all of the stories focus on love in one way or another (some with happy endings, other with tragic), I did particularly like one of the later stories in the collection, “The Sea Man,” that focuses more on the love of family. The story follows a sea captain who discover the titular sea man. Though their connection is brief, the story explores the deep understanding of family and love that can cross all boundaries, including ones as simple as language to the more complicated kind that delve into the fantastical.

I also really liked “Dark Seed, Dark Stone,” a story that takes place in ancient Britain, focusing on the Picts and their in-fighting. After the death of her father, the shield of the King, Bridei, a young woman wishes to take upon herself that same role. But, of course, her skills with a spear and shield could never compete with the other warriors. Instead, she earns her place through sheer bravery and the ability to take on a threat in a unique way. Again, the love story is a very small part of this story, but I thought it was an interesting new look into this time period and Bridei himself.

Lastly, I really enjoyed “Dragonfield,” a more straight-forward, action-packed fantasy story. As the title suggests, it follows the tale of a brave young woman, a reluctant hero, and their fight to save their town from a rampaging dragon. While this story wasn’t doing anything particularly shocking, it was the sort of solid, familiar fantasy story that I think most authors work years to complete. And here, Yolen seems to whip it out as if it’s nothing. The simplicity of the story itself instead highlights her vast skills at amusing narration and the creation of interesting and sympathetic characters, even with a very limited format.

As I said, this is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of stories. It’s a must read for all fantasy short story fans, and I think it is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a unique take on a love story this Valentine’s season.

Rating 9: Yolen expertly weaves together a tapestry of romance, with the weft made of magic and the warp made of humanity’s joys and tragedies.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Scarlet Circus” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Best Fantasy Short Story Collections.

Kate’s Review: “Unshod, Cackling, and Naked”

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Book: “Unshod, Cackling, and Naked” by Tamika Thompson

Publishing Info: Unnerving, January 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon | Author’s Website

Book Description: A beauty pageant veteran appeases her mother by competing for one final crown, only to find herself trapped in a hand-sewn gown that cuts into her flesh. A journalist falls deeply in love with a mysterious woman but discovers his beloved can vanish and reappear hours later in the same spot, as if no time has passed at all. A cash-strapped college student agrees to work in a shop window as a mannequin but quickly learns she’s not free to break her pose. And what happens when the family pet decides it no longer wants to have “owners?”

In the grim and often horrific thirteen tales collected here, beauty is violent, and love and hate are the same feeling, laid bare by unbridled obsession. Entering worlds both strange and quotidian, and spanning horror landscapes both speculative and real, Unshod, Cackling, and Naked asks who among us is worthy of love and who deserves to die?

Review: Thank you to Beverly Bambury for sending me an eARC of this short story collection!

Even though I am typing this whilst looking at a VERY out of control book pile on my nightstand, I’m not lying when I say that I’m always on the lookout for something new in my reading rotations. Especially if that something new is something horror related. So when I was approached with “Unshod, Cackling, and Naked”, a collection of short horror stories by Tamika Thompson, I was quite interested in giving it a go! I like finding new to me horror authors to check out, and the title alone had a lot of promise. And while it’s true that short stories aren’t always reliable for me, I’ve had luck with them recently, so I was down to try more. And happily, that once again worked out pretty well!

As I always do with short stories collections I will talk about the three that I liked the best, and then talk about the collection as a whole.

“Under the Crown”: This is actually, to me, the least ‘horror’ horror story of the collection, though there are still aspects that make it tread that way. But at the end of the day I found it to be a really satisfying tale of self liberation. A woman has been competing in beauty pageants for most of her life at the behest of her mother, and she is starting to get tired of it. During a really important pageant that she never wanted to do in the first place, the various tricks of the trade to make her look pretty start to take their toll, as the dress itself feels like its biting into her skin. This story is more about the very real pain that some people go through for beauty, be it physical or emotional, and our protagonist has a lot of body horror moments that are rooted in truth (teeth whiteners that burn, a dress that is so uncomfortable it draws blood, and something involving jelly beans that made me cringe). Beauty pageants, beauty standards, and misogyny are all themes in this story and I thought it had some nice moments of dark humor too.

“Mannequin Model”: Way back when during an early season of Top Model one of the challenges was for the contestants to stand in store windows as living mannequins, and my mind immediately went to that when I started this story, but it would be if the contestants then had to endure a psychological torture session (moreso). A woman who is strapped for cash and needs money to support her family in crisis takes a job as a living mannequin at a store, told to stand perfectly still in the store window between two actual mannequins. But as the shift lingers on and on and she has to endure physical pain, the leers of onlookers, and a cruel boss, she starts to hear the mannequins talking to her. This one is very unnerving, a look at objectification, of bad labor practices, of misogyny and racism, and how it can all come together to take a serious toll.

“Abduction Near Knife Lake”: I think that this was my favorite story in the whole collection, and it was the last one so it made the book end with a bang. Remnants of a bridal party and driving in the backroads of Michigan after the wedding when an Amber Alert comes through on their phones, describing the abduction of a young Black girl. When bridesmaid Samiah thinks she sees the car she convinces groomsman and ex-boyfriend Will to try and help her save the girl, as help is far away and missing Black children aren’t prioritized. Their good samaritan choice, however, lands them in unexpected danger. There are so many tension points in this story, between the suspense of whether or not Samiah and Will are going to get caught by the possible abductor, to the tension of being in an isolated wilderness, so things perhaps not being as they seem. It’s a really fun scary story, one that stood out for all the right reasons.

As a collection it’s cohesive and pretty solid! I don’t think there were any stories that didn’t work for me, though some I enjoyed more than others. But overall I found Thompson’s voice and storytelling to be unique and engaging, and given that I tend to be hit or miss with short stories collections I’m always happy when there is a pretty clear ‘hit’.

I think that there is something for everyone in “Unshod, Cackling, and Naked”, so definitely give it a go if you are looking for some enjoyable horror short stories! Tamika Thompson is a fun horror voice, and I will be going back to read “Salamander Justice” this Spring for sure!

Rating 8: A solid horror collection of various sub genres that explore supernatural terrors, as well as the terrors of being a Black woman in racist and misogynistic societies.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Unshod, Cackling, and Naked” isn’t included on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Horror Short Stories by Authors of Color”, and “Great Reads for Halloween”.

Book Club Review: “Interpreter of Maladies”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book with AAPI main characters.

Book Description: Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant.

Kate’s Thoughts

It’s not often that book club takes on a literary tale, so this time around we were stretching our limits with Jhumpa Lahiri’s well beloved short story collection “Interpreter of Maladies”. I’m someone who does try to tackle literary fiction every once in awhile, and this had been on my list, so I was excited to finally check it out, short stories aside. As we all know, short stories and I don’t always get along, but I like to think that I am game when it comes to book club! And overall I definitely appreciated the acclaim this book has, and how important it was when it first came out.

As always, I will focus on the stories I liked best. The first one that really stood out to me was “When Mr. Pizada Came to Dine”. This one is told from the perspective of a little girl whose family opens up their dinner table to a man named Mr. Pirzada, who is in the U.S. for research and away from his wife and daughters who are still in Pakistan. As our narrator gets closer to Mr. Pirzada, she learns about the conflict he left at home, as well the divides between India and Pakistan, and the Civil War and ongoing conflict going on between Pakistan and India that leaves Mr. Pirzada wondering how his family is doing. This one is through the eyes of a child, but definitely conveys the emotional conflict that the family friend is going through, as well as conveying a coming of age understanding about a life that she has never known, but is happening across the world. I was very invested in Mr. Pirzada and his family, and thought that the emotional beats were well achieved. The other story that really stood out was “This Blessed House”, which is the story of Sanjeev and Twinkle, newlyweds who are settling into their new home in Connecticut. As they look through the house they keep finding Catholic symbols and objects, and while Twinkle is tickled, Sanjeev is more and more frustrated with her fixation. I thought this one had some very funny moments, but I also liked the examination of a newly married couple who are still getting to know each other, and perhaps realizing each other’s foibles.

There were other well done stories in this collection, and I found Lahiri’s writing style and gifts for imagery to be stark and very engaging. It has a lot of difficult themes, from family strife to racism to trauma and loss, but they all come together in the end to make a well realized and melancholy collection of experiences of Indian Americans from all backgrounds and back stories. While I still have a hard time with short story collections based on my own personal biases wtih the format, I thought that “Interpreter of Maladies” did a really good job of stringing them together even without making direction connections. I’m glad that we tackled it, because it gave me the push to actually check it out!

Rating 8: A well written and melancholy collection of stories about love, loss, culture, and identity, “Interpreter of Maladies” is lyrical and powerful.

Book Club Questions

  1. Do you have a favorite story in this collection? What was it about that story you liked?
  2. This book has a lot of themes involving love and marriage. What were your thoughts on the different romantic relationships in the various stories?
  3. The immigration theme in this book has a focus on struggle and difficulties to adjust to a new culture and home. Do you think that a lens of struggle is seen as much in stories about the immigrant experience these days as opposed to twenty years ago?
  4. What did you think of the writing style in this book? Did you feel that it connected the stories together well?
  5. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“Interpreter of Maladies” is included on the Goodreads lists “South Asian Fiction by Women”, and “Immigrant Voices (Fiction)”.

Next Book Club Pick: “Travellers Along the Way” by Aminah Mae Safi

Kate’s Review: “Effects Vary”

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Book: “Effects Vary” by Michael Harris Cohen

Publishing Info: Cemetary Gates Media, October 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the author.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon

Book Description: Effects Vary features 22 stories of dark fiction and literary horror that explore the shadow side of love, loss, and family. From an aging TV star’s murderous plan to rekindle her glory days, to a father who returns from war forever changed, from human lab rats who die again and again, to a farmer who obeys the dreadful commands of the sky, these stories, four of them award winners, blur the thin line between reality and the darkest reaches of the imagination.

Review: Thank you to Michael Harris Cohen for reaching out an sending me an eARC of this novel!

Halloween season may be over (ugh, it always goes way too fast), but you know me and you know how much I love scary stories. So we aren’t staying away from horror for too long, as today I am taking on “Effects Vary” by Michael Harris Cohen. When this ended up in our inbox, I thought that it was probably about time that I pick up a horror short stories anthology. It has been awhile, after all. And the info I found about it piqued my interest, even though I tend to be a little gun shy about short story collections in general. But the good news is that “Effects Vary” was another positive experience with this format!

The stories in this collection run a real gamut! From different sub genres to different perspective construction to different lengths, the twenty two stories fit together well but all stand on their own in different ways. As always when it comes to short stories, I’ll talk about my favorite three, and then about the collection as a whole.

“Pain Is Your Teacher” : This is one of the shorter stories in the bunch, which is about the length of a drabble (for people who aren’t familiar with fan fiction, that’s a few hundred words at most). A woman writes a farewell letter to her husband as they are settling up their divorce, and as the letter winds down she reveals a last laugh she got upon him after years of abuse. Again, this is a short story, one of the shortest in the collection, but it gets right to the point and goes for the throat almost immediately. I felt like I learned everything I needed to know about Alexander and his nameless soon to be ex wife, and I thought that it was vicious and satisfying in all the right ways.

“Everything Is Forever”: A self proclaimed psychic and mostly charlatan is making an appearance on a TV show and having to explain how one of her recent predictions got things so wrong. As someone who has vivid memories of my nanny watching Sylvia Browne on “Montel”, and as someone who loves a medium story (legitimate or otherwise), I really liked the trajectory this one took. It’s another shorter story in this collection, but even in the limited pages Cohen manages to create a broad narrative and backstory for Joyce the psychic, and creates a tragic circumstance that cuts right to the emotional quick and is absolutely haunting.

“The Ex-Court Painter, Goya, and The Princess”: This one was almost certainly my favorite story in the collection, as it’s unsettling as hell but also has a certain bittersweetness to it. An ex-court painter for Spanish King Charles IV is called back to the palace to paint for the King, even though Goya has taken over. He finds out that the King wants him to paint a portrait of the princess, who as a baby has died tragically shortly after being born. As the painter comes back every year to create a new portrait that imagines how she would have aged, his obsession with the dead princess he has created starts to grow. This one is very creepy, as our ex-court painter becomes more and more fixated on a girl who has been long dead (and who died as an infant no less!), but it also captures grief, regret, and madness in ways that treat more towards melancholy rather than flat out shock or distaste.

The rest of the stories were kind of hit or miss for me, though I do think that there were more hits than misses. Cohen can easily jump from setting to setting and has so many characters and circumstances that all feel well thought out and envisioned, and I thought that all of them did a good job of setting a scene and going on a journey in ways that were quick but satisfying.

If you, reader, are wondering why this has a 7 rating instead of a higher one when I have been generally pretty positive, I will say that there were some ongoing themes in the collection that were really hard for me to deal with, specifically child death. I felt like there was more child death in this collection than I was able to really handle at the time of reading it, as it’s a difficult theme even once in a story. So in a collection of multiple stories that have multiple moments of children dying, it’s probably no surprise that I had a hard time with this. What can I say, I’m unfortunately one of those people that, now that she has a child, is far more sensitive to such things (for examples, I can’t watch Alex Kintner’s death in “Jaws”, and I have to stop watching the opening scene of “Scream” when Casey’s parents come home). This is obviously VERY subjective from reader to reader, so while I had a difficult time dealing with it, another reader may be totally okay with it as a theme in their horror fiction. But it still did have an effect on my reading experience. One could say that effects vary.

You have no idea how proud I was with that little joke. (source)

Overall, “Effects Vary” is an effective and varied collection of dark fantasy and horror tales. I’m sure that most horror fans will find a lot to like here!

Rating 7: A huge array of horror stories for any horror fan, “Effects Vary” is a varied collection of scary tales.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Effects Vary” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but it would fit in on “Best Horror Short Stories”.

Serena’s Review: “The River of Silver”

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Book: “The River of Silver” by S. A. Chakraborty

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, October 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: ALA convention!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Bestselling author S. A. Chakraborty’s acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy gets expanded with this new compilation of stories from before, during, and after the events of The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, and The Empire of Gold, all from the perspective of characters both beloved and hated, and even those without a voice in the novels. The River of Silver gathers material both seen and new–including a special coda fans will need to read–making this the perfect complement to those incredible novels.

Now together in one place, these stories of Daevabad enrich a world already teeming with magic and wonder. Explore this magical kingdom, hidden from human eyes. A place where djinn live and thrive, fight and love. A world where princes question their power, and powerful demons can help you…or destroy you.

A prospective new queen joins a court whose lethal history may overwhelm her own political savvy…

An imprisoned royal from a fallen dynasty and a young woman wrenched from her home cross paths in an enchanted garden…

A pair of scouts stumble upon a secret in a cursed winter wood that will turn over their world…

From Manizheh’s first steps towards rebellion to adventures that take place after The Empire of Gold, this is a must-have collection for those who can’t get enough of Nahri, Ali, and Dara and all that unfolded around them.

Previously Reviewed: “City of Brass” and “Kingdom of Copper” and “The Empire of Gold”

Review: This collection was released as an audiobook around a year or so ago, I believe. But I knew if I just stuck it out, it would be released in hardcover as well. What good publisher would turn away the opportunity to cash in on another installation in a beloved fantasy trilogy? I also held off because this was one of those cases where I wondered if it might be difficult to transition between having read the entire first trilogy in print and then to listen to this one as an audiobook. For one thing, I’m sure I was mispronouncing tons of names and words. And with that being the case, I worried that returning to this world a few years after the last book released and listening to a version where some of the words were pronounced differently than the way I (erroneously) had been used to…well, let’s just say the world and the history of this fantasy series has never been the most easy to get straight so I wasn’t about to add another layer! So, lucky me that I was able to nab an early ARC of this at ALA and get on with things!

I’m going to skip my typical paragraph detailing a summary of this book. For one thing, I think the one provided by the publisher is more than enough. And for another, it’s hard to really summarize a collection of stories that are each separate mini stories in and of themselves. This is all the harder when these stories are woven before, between, and after the events of a previously written trilogy that, itself, takes place over a good number of years. There’s a lot of history and time covered in this book and, frankly, it would be impossible for me to summarize it further!

So, first off, this is definitely the kind of collection that must, must, must be read after completely the initial trilogy. There isn’t a single story in this collection that doesn’t touch on characters and histories that were further detailed in that series, and thus would all be completely meaningless to somehow coming at it as a stand-alone.

Second off, I’ll say that this book would probably be appreciated most being read directly after completing the initial trilogy. As I said, those books make up a complicated and rich world and history, and much of that is touched on here. Even just the few years that I’ve had between completing the last book and picking up this one left me feeling like I was having to really work to recall how everything fit together.

But taking this into account, this was a supremely well-done collection of stories. I went in not really know whose stories we were going to hear, when they were going to take place, or anything really. And one after another I found myself surprised and intrigued by the insights into the world and characters we were given. Chakraborty in no way wrote this book as fan service; while there are surely characters everyone wanted to hear more from, there are also a number of characters who were either villains, side characters, or even characters we had only heard about in passing (or not at all).

I really liked the way the book was organized, moving in chronological order from stories taking place before “The City of Brass” until its last few entries that take place after “The Empire of Gold.” In this way, it was easy to slot in these added layers of depth to what I remembered happening in the original trilogy. Even more impressive, some of the early stories helped to lay the groundwork for insights that were going to come from stories later in this very collection. In that way, the book felt like a word in and of itself, rather than just an assortment of long footnotes for the initial trilogy.

If you enjoyed the original Daevabad trilogy, this is an absolute must read. It adds so much depth to the story as a whole, especially some of the characters we only met briefly before who are more fleshed out here. It was also simply a sheer joy to return world and be reminded just how much of a powerhouse Chakraborty is as a writer. She has a new book coming out this spring, and this just made the itch all the stronger to get my hands on it as soon as possible.

Rating 9: A must-read for fans of the original series, this book accomplishes the impossible of not only making those books all the better for the added context but of being a fantastic reading experience in and of itself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The River of Silver” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Best Fantasy Short Story Collections.

Kate’s Review: “Men, Women, and Chainsaws”

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Book: “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publishing Info:, April 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: Tor.Com | Amazon

Book Description: It’s been two years since Jenna’s ex-boyfriend left her alone in East Texas heartbroken. Now he’s back in town and she wants to payback. One night, she stumbles upon a bloodthirsty Camaro that may be the key to carrying out her revenge.

Review: So I’m highlighting something a little different today for my review. The reason is that I have been picking away at some of the short stories by Stephen Graham Jones, one of my favorite authors, and I found one that is so accessible and such a quick read that I want to spread the word of this awesome author. Seriously if you haven’t read Jones yet, this will make it easy! “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” is a short story that is available on! I myself bought it for my Kindle, which is also an option, but above there is a link right to it! And it’s a story about a revenge seeking woman who has the help of a bloodthirsty car! The obvious reference here is “Christine” by Stephen King, but I got more of a “Little Shop of Horrors” vibe from this story and I was one hundred percent here for it.

What do you want from me, BLOOD?! (source)

Our main character is Jenna, a woman who has had to deal with a fair amount of loss in her life, the most recent one being that of her boyfriend Victor, who went to work on oil rigs and sent her a break up letter. Earlier was the death of her bio parents in a tragedy involving a car. Jenna’s last happy moment with Victor was recreating a photoshoot at a local junkyard involving a junked out Camaro and Caroline Williams of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” fame, and when Jenna finds the Camaro later, the same night Victor comes home and her rejection is flaunted for everyone, things take a turn for the supernatural. It involves bloodletting, a rebuilt car, and a scorned lover’s revenge. But it’s also a story of a woman who has suffered some pretty terrible loss in her life, and how a bloodthirsty car not only can help her seek revenge but also closure.

And it’s the sense of melancholy that permeates the pages that made this story one of the more bittersweet tales that Jones has written. Jenna has seen some shit and been through some shit, and I just wanted her to have some kind of happiness, or at least peace. As she finds out some ugly truths about Victor, as well as some hidden truths about what happened to her biological parents, my heart broke for her as she seeks out a connection, seeks out not only the hope of taking out a user and abusive prick, but also the hope of finding a connection to the parents she never knew, and finding not only meaning in their loss, but also perhaps an otherworldly reunion. I’m being a bit vague, and I kind of have to be because the story is filled with emotional beats that are best experienced with no prior knowledge. But on the flip side, there are also some really fun horror moments, and some really awesome homages to horror stories, be it the aforementioned “Christine” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”, as well as the nostalgia of hitting up a scary movie at the drive in. Jones just loves horror stories and he writes them with such a fondness that you can’t help but grin form ear to ear when you read them.

Short stories are generally hit or miss for me, but Stephen Graham Jones is always on point within this format. He knows how to build a world and an arc and make it feel well thought out and explored in less than fifty pages. “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” is weird and emotional, and I really enjoyed it on every level.

Rating 9: Strange and eerie but with undercurrents of pathos, “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” is a delightful short story by one of my favorite authors.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Men, Women, and Chainsaws” is included on the Goodreads list “2022 Horror and Sci Fi Releases”.

Kate’s Review: “Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror”

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Book: “Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror” by Joh F.D. Taft (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, March 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where Can You Get this Book: WorldCat | Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: Dark Stars, edited by John F.D. Taff, is a tribute to horror’s longstanding short fiction legacy, featuring 12 terrifying original stories from today’s most noteworthy authors, with an introduction by bestselling author Josh Malerman and an afterword by Ramsey Campbell.

Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection contains 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, Caroline Kepnes, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F.D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.

Within these pages you’ll find tales of dead men walking, an insidious secret summer fling, an island harboring unspeakable power, and a dark hallway that beckons. You’ll encounter terrible monsters—both human and supernatural—and be forever changed. The stories in Dark Stars run the gamut from traditional to modern, from dark fantasy to neo-noir, from explorations of beloved horror tropes to the unknown—possibly unknowable—threats. It’s all in here because it’s all out there, now, in horror.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this collection!

“Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror” was a long time coming! As has been a theme for some books in the past two years, it was initially supposed to come out at one time, then got bumped back by a number of months due to various issues. It had been on my radar for awhile, as it was sporting the names of a number of my favorite authors (Caroline Kepnes and Stephem Graham Jones, what’s up?), AND was set up as an homage to horror anthology collections over the years (the title alone harkens to “Dark Forces”, a horror anthology from 1981 that is considered a game changer for horror short fiction in many horror circles). Those two things alone were enough to make me shrug off my nervousness about tackling a short story collection, when my experiences with such things are mixed. Granted, lately I’ve had a pretty good run with short story anthologies, but as a pessimist I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop!

I’ll break it down first with the stories I liked best. And the ones I’m picking are a mix of the obvious but also something new.

“The Attentionist” by Caroline Kepnes

Kepnes is one of my very favorite authors, so no duh she ends up as a top story in this collection. “The Attentionist” is a story that has a huge focus on sisterly rivalry, with a heavy dose of the original 1970s “Black Christmas” thrown in for good and horrifying measure. Maeve and Reg are teenage sisters, both desperate for the attention and approval of boys. They both have fantasies about being swept off their feet and live vicariously through each other, especially when Maeve gets a phone call that Reg answers and it leads to a fantasy about a potential boyfriend… But when Maeve picks up the phone, it isn’t a dream boy, but a threatening stalker, who keeps on calling, much to Maeve’s horror… and excitement. Kepnes is so damn good at making creepy and disturbing content go down with ease thanks to snark, sarcasm, and satire, and I was both very unsettled by this story while also being highly entertained. I liked the pacing, the turn on a dime reveals, and the way that Kepnes easily shows the consequences of her teenage girl characters being so deeply warped by society’s message about male approval at any cost.

“All the Things He Called Memories” by Stephen Graham Jones

Another favorite author makes it to my favorites list from this collection! And he did not disappoint, which isn’t surprising. “All the Things He Called Memories” is a blend of a few kinds of horror themes: isolation, the unknown, and the fear of not knowing a person you think you know. Jones sets his tale during the height of the first year of COVID-19, with married couple Bo and Marcy not leaving their home and trying to find ways to pass the time, Marcy suggesting they talk about their fears and the scariest thing they can remember from their lives. Bo talks about the feeling of always being watched whenever he was alone in his house, and feeling a presence around him…. And then, that presence starts to creep back into his psyche. But is it something supernatural, or a symptom of COVID restlessness.. or something worse? This story, like many Jones stories, has a deeply human element to it, with relatable characters and a slow build of creepiness that set my teeth on edge, and as Bo tries to figure out what is going on, Jones lays out many possibilities, only to have a very unsettling outcome that is going to stay with me for awhile. As someone who also has a terrible irrational feeling of being hunted while on the steps in my house, afraid of what may or may not be in the dark, this one was a home run for me.

“Challawa” by Usman T. Malik

I hadn’t read anything by Usman T. Malik until this short story collection, so I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but “Challawa” was fantastic. Karima and her husband Ed have travelled to India, with Karima interested in folklore and history of a small town that was the location of an English backed match factory during the Imperial occupation of Britain. As Karima learns of the folklore and mythology of the region, she is also dealing with her husband’s infidelity, the stillbirth of their child, and how their relationship has been reeling because of it (and other issues). As Karima gets closer to her guide and the lore, the history of violent colonialism bleeds in and leads up to a terrifying realization. This one was probably my favorite in the collection as a whole, as Malik not only has some great South Asian monster lore he’s working with, but also very real horrors of misogyny, racism, colonialism, and the traumas that all come with it. I’m reluctant to use this comparison because this is very much an Eastern story and shouldn’t have to have Western analogs, BUT, there are definitely similar universal themes that made me think of “Midsommar”. But given that I didn’t like “Midsommar”, I’m not going to say that “Challawa” is akin to it in all ways. It stands on its own as something unique and SUPER scary.

And while there were standouts from a couple more authors (I do want to acknowledge Alma Katsu’s story “The Familiar’s Assistant”, because man did that nail vampire themes!), the rest were mixed. There were some that were okay, or at least kept my attention, and there were others that really didn’t work for me, be it because of strange style choices, scattered narratives, or some slight to expansive appropriation of Indigenous cultural stories and themes. That last point aside, I’m sure that the variety of story types and subgenres means that there will be something for everyone in this collection, but as someone who is already wary of story collections the number of misses merely confirmed my wariness. There are certainly gems here, as you can see above, but having to get through the stories that weren’t as interesting was a bit of a chore.

If you are a horror person who really enjoys short story collections (and I know a few!), “Dark Stars” is a pretty good example of that. I’m always happy to find more authors I connect with, and that is something that this book provided for me.

Rating 7: A third really stood out, a third were okay, and a third were not for me. All in all, a mixed collection.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward to in 2022”.

Kate’s Review: “Mestiza Blood”

Book: “Mestiza Blood” by V. Castro

Publishing Info: Flame Tree Press, January 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: From the lauded author of The Queen of the Cicadas (which picked up starred reviews from PW, Kirkus and Booklist who called her “a dynamic and innovative voice”) comes a short story collection of nightmares, dreams, desire and visions focused on the Chicana experience. V.Castro weaves urban legend, folklore, life experience and heartache in this personal journey beginning in south Texas: a bar where a devil dances the night away; a street fight in a neighborhood that may not have been a fight after all; a vengeful chola at the beginning of the apocalypse; mind swapping in the not so far future; satan who falls and finds herself in a brothel in Amsterdam; the keys to Mictlan given to a woman after she dies during a pandemic. The collection finishes with two longer tales: The Final Porn Star is a twist on the final girl trope and slasher, with a creature from Mexican folklore; and Truck Stop is an erotic horror romance with two hearts: a video store and a truck stop.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this short story collection!

I wrapped up 2021’s Horrorpalooza with a review of V. Castro’s “The Queen of the Cicadas”, and while I thought it had some great moments I found myself wanting more. So when I saw that Castro had a new collection of short horror stories coming out called “Mestiza Blood”, I was more than willing to jump past my hot and cold relationship with short story anthologies to give her another chance. And I’m glad that I did, because “Mestiza Blood” had a lot of really great stories that cover a huge variety of horror themes! I’m going to do the usual format I do with short story collections, by showcasing my favorite three stories first, and then doing a wrap up of the collection in general (but I MUST say that I had a hard time choosing just three favorites… Yep, that’s how strong this collection is).

“Donkey Lady Bridge”

The set up grabbed me from the jump: A woman named Jackie is walking home drunk from the bar, and finds herself crossing a notorious local bridge that has the urban legend of the Donkey Lady attached to it. A deformed and screaming spectre, the Donkey Lady has a lot of potential origin stories, and lots of people who hope to see her. Jackie has never believed in her…. until she has an encounter with The Donkey Lady that changes the course of her life. I’m a huge sucker for urban legend horror as we all know, and there was one particular moment in this story where I said out loud ‘Jesus CHRIST’ because it was so unsettling and scary. Castro’s descriptions of the Donkey Lady are terrifying and disturbing, and the story goes in a direction that I totally didn’t expect. For me this was probably the scariest story in the book.

“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Christmas wasn’t so long ago, and I found myself relating a LOT to this story about a stressed out mother during the holidays who finds herself propositioned by a demon to make her life easier. At a price, of course. This past Christmas was a stressful one for me, between getting back together with family, taking on a number of cooking tasks, and having to coordinate rapid testing to keep my ineligible to be vaccinated kid as protected as possible in a sea of uncertainty about Omicron. So yeah, I REALLY felt how the Mother in the story would be tempted by a demon who promises lofty things. There are also a lot of really funny moments in this tale, as well as vulnerable ones that really nail how hard motherhood can be during a time of year where everything has to be magical. This story definitely feels more heartwarming than I expected, which fit pretty well since it’s a Christmas story. Even if it looks at Christmas like it’s the flawed and high stress holiday that it is.

“The Final Porn Star”

A little bit of a ‘cabin in the woods’ tale, a little bit of Mexican folklore, and a lot of slasher fun come together to make “The Final Porn Star”. Thalia Sanchez is a well loved and popular porn star who is nearing retirement, hoping to spend more time with her daughter and to settle into a less harried life. Her last shoot is in a large, glamorous house in the middle of nowhere, and it seems like a standard shoot with colleagues she loves. But then they start finding mutilated animals on set. And it becomes clear that none of them are safe from a creature that is stalking them. I loved Thalia as our protagonist, and I loved seeing the cast and crew slowly realize that they are in danger as something hunts them. Castro hits a lot of fun slasher tropes but makes them feel fresh by using La Lechuza, a monstrous bird with the head of a crone, as the monster in the tale. It’s bloody, it’s fun, it’s sex positive, and it achieves everything it wants to.

And as mentioned above, there were lots of great stories to pick from! Even the ones that didn’t quite connect (there were only two or three at most) were more because of the genre choices as opposed to the storytelling itself. Castro has a really diverse collection here that truly has something for just about any horror fan.

“Mestiza Blood” is a lot of gory and scary fun. If you are a horror lover and haven’t looked into V. Castro yet, this may be the moment to do so.

Rating 8: A varied and creepy collection of stories that range from scary to funny to touching, “Mestiza Blood” is an enjoyable compilation by V. Castro.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Mestiza Blood” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror To Look Forward To in 2022”.

Find “Mestiza Blood” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Corpsing”

Book: “Corpsing” by Kayleigh Marie Edwards

Publishing Info: Sinister Horror Company, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eBook from the author.

Book Description: Kayleigh Marie Edwards has been entertaining and chilling audiences with her own eclectic mix of horror and comedy. Now, for the first time, this popular author has collected her works together, reviewing and revising each one to bring you the definitive versions of her unique tales.

From murderous children to nightmarish trips to an ill-fated zombie apocalypse, Corpsing will send you running for the light switch, but smiling as you do it. Featuring the stories: Bitey Bachman, Bits and Bobs, Siren, Now You See Them, Skin, ‘S’ Day, Barry’s Last Day & ’Twas The Night Before Christmas.

Review: Thank you to Kayleigh Marie Edwards for reaching out and sending me an eBook of this novel!

Since I’ve had a pretty okay run with short stories recently, there may not be a reason for me to do a disclaimer, but I’m going to do it anyway. Short stories or anthologies as a format for a book is VERY hit or miss for me. While there are definitely collections I’ve enjoyed, a good number in recent years, I still tend to stay away of my own volition unless it’s an author I REALLY love. But when Kayleigh Marie Edwards approached our blog about her short story collection “Corpsing”, I wanted to give it a shot, because the info I found out about it made it sound like it was going to be a treat. And let me tell you, when the first story in the collection had MANY “Rocky Horror Picture Show” references, I knew that I had made the right call.

One might say it makes me wanna take Charles Atlas by the hand. (source)

“Corpsing” is a very fast collection, clocking in under one hundred pages, so was able to finish it in an evening. But that isn’t to say that the stories within it feel rushed or incomplete in any way. On the contrary, Edwards has crafted some creepy, grotesque, and sometimes quite funny tales that make up this collection, all of them feeling well thought out with clear arcs. As per usual, I shall talk about my favorite stories, and then tackle the collection as a whole.


By far the scariest story of the bunch, “Siren” is about a girl named Lucy who moves to a new home with her mother, her father staying behind as their marriage has fallen apart. Lucy is resentful and bitter, but then she looks out her window overlooking a lake and sees a girl who appears to be floating on the surface. Lucy gets to know Alice, a ghost who is convinced that they are going to be the best of friends. “Siren” has so many creepy moments, from imagery to interactions to an unsettling feeling as the story progresses, and it is probably one of the most serious stories of the bunch just because of how bleak it feels. You get Lucy’s isolation and resentment, and she feels like a very realistic tween girl who doesn’t quite get the full consequences of her actions or the actions of those around her, and as she depends more and more on Alice the dread builds more and more. And again, back to the imagery I mentioned: holy shit. There was one moment in particular that made me shiver.

“Barry’s Last Day”

As someone who has felt resentment towards a job, I thought this was a pretty fun one. Barry has worked at his company for many years, only to be passed over in his promotion for a young and smarmy man named Todd. As he’s leaving his job, he wants to take revenge on those he feels wronged him, but it may not go to plan. “Barry’s Last Day” isn’t really a scary story per se, but it definitely falls into the suspenseful ‘will this work out for him, and if it does, what does that mean?’ realm. Barry isn’t particularly likable or sympathetic, but I feel like lots of people could relate to him in his frustration. And I laughed out loud at the dark gallows humor throughout, especially once everything shakes out in the conclusion.

“‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”

Jim has taken his sons Dan and Nathan out to chop down a Christmas tree, but the only one they can find is growing in an animal cemetery, and hadn’t been there the year previously when they buried the family cat. Jim brings it home anyway, as what could possibly go wrong? This one was such a creative concept, and I don’t really want to spoil it, but I feel like this one was the best in the collection in terms of combining true horror with the funny. And again, I don’t want to spoil anything. But the last line made me laugh out loud and clap. I see what you did there, Kayleigh Marie Edwards, and I APPROVE.

In terms of the other stories, I think that were I more into visceral splatter horror and body horror I may have enjoyed them more, so while a couple didn’t click with me, it is probably because the subgenres aren’t my jam for the most part. But they were still engaging and quick reads, so those who do like more body horror things and want a quick collection will probably be right at home with them. And yes, the dark humor is there for those who like that mixed in with their scares. Edwards does it well and captures a well balanced tone when they do mix.

“Corpsing” was a fun and fast read! Definitely seek it out if you’re looking for something quick with wit and gore.

Rating 7: A quick and nasty (in a good way!) collection of short stories that is sure to have something for everyone, “Corpsing” is a fun collection with a couple stories that really stood out for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Corpsing” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Spooky Short Story Collections”.

Find “Corpsing” at your library using WorldCat, or at!

Kate’s Review: “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge”

Book: “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” by Holly Rae Garcia and Ryan Prentice Garcia

Publishing Info: Close to the Bone, October 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the authors.

Book Description: US Army Veteran Henry Miller embarks on a hunt at the edge of the Black Forest, but strays from the path and finds himself too close to the East Cascade Mountain Range.

Something lurks in the forest on the other side of those mountains. An ancient race of Bigfoot that have kept to themselves for centuries, until one of them defies the warnings and roams too far from the safety of their home.

When these two intersect, alliances are broken and events set in motion that will leave residents of the town of Easton Falls, Washington, fighting for their lives.

Review: Thank you to Holly Rae Garcia and Ryan Prentice Garcia for sending me an eARC of this novella!

Back when I was a kiddo, along with my supernatural and ghost obsession I was also very into cryptids and cryptozoology. I would check out books from my school library about The Loch Ness Monster, The Abominable Snowman, and, of course, Bigfoot. As time went on my fascination with such things waned, but I’m still game to talk about weird cryptic stories if anyone else is (especially if we are talking about my boi Mothman!). I haven’t really dabbled into much creature feature horror in my book repertoire. Enter Holly Rae Garcia reaching out to me asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing the novella “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge”, which she wrote with her husband, Ryan Prentice Garcia. I was taken with the description, and said yes, yes I would. It’s been awhile since I last did a stint with some Bigfoot lore.

Nuff said. (source)

“The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” is a bloody, tense, fun horror novella in which humans have to contend with the wrath of Bigfoot, and let me tell you, I had a blast reading it. The authors do a fantastic job of fitting in relationship angst, small town drama, and a sense of foreboding and isolation, all while building up to a gory and unrepentant gore-a-thon where a couple Bigfoots enter a small town’s city limits and fuck shit up. There is a little background given to the area (being the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot Central U.S.A.), as well as hints dropped about how the Indigenous people who had been there before connect to the Bigfoot lore. While I’m always a bit skittish when it comes to Indigenous belief systems and mythology being used in fantasy and/or horror media, I will say that in this book it wasn’t trotted out repeatedly or focused upon too much (that said, as a white woman, I can’t speak for Indigenous People). Along with a solid setting, we have some pretty solid characters too. Our protagonist, Henry, has a tough backstory which gives him a pall of sadness, and there are enough fraught and messy aspects to him and his relationship to his lover Kate that make you connect and feel for both of them. You also get a good sense about the town and how the people function within it, and how their relationships grow, change, and sometimes turn toxic. All of this is accomplished in a short novella, and I was impressed that so much was explored in the number of pages we had to work with.

And now the Bigfoot stuff. Fun as hell. I don’t want to give many spoilers, of course, but just know that the reasons behind the ‘revenge’ aspect that is promised in the title is pretty understandable. While I could sympathize with Henry, and certainly the townspeople that we encountered, ultimately I was here to see Bigfoots take out a bunch of humans, because humans are the WORST. And this book certainly delivers that. The descriptions of the various death scenes, and the aftermaths, are gruesome and over the top, and absolutely feel like they could be those you’d find in a B-schlock horror creature feature from Troma. Which makes the read super entertaining.

Halloween may be just behind us, but if you’re like me and always looking to extend the season by a hair, you should definitely consider picking up “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge”. And hey, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, just be careful when you wander into the woods. You never know what you could find!

Rating 8: A quick bit of creature feature horror for cryptid enthusiasts especially, “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” reads like a cheesy horror movie in all the best ways possible!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists as of now, but I think it would fit in on “Sasquatch Books”, and “Cryptids”.

Find “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” at the authors’ website!

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