Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black



Book Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Simone St. James wrote an intriguing paranormal mystery – “The Broken Girls.” In it, the strong-minded lead, Fiona, is obsessed with her sister’s murder. Under the guise of reporting  the reopening of the historic girls’ boarding school Idelwild Hall (where her sister’s body was discovered), Fiona discovers some mysteries won’t – and shouldn’t – stay buried. Though told in two distinct times lines, the book reads like a dream with a lovely rhythm and attention to Gothic details. St. James fleshed out the cast of characters, including a ghost named Mary Hand. Although this is the first time I’ve read a book by Simone St. James, it will most definitely not be the last.

Book Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

This amazing ghost story by Toni Morrison haunts. It touches on the horrors of slavery, the lasting harm of imprisonment, and the freedom that even frustrates death. Why do I say only “touches on slavery” when the story’s main characters are escaped slaves pursued almost two decades after they arrived in a free state? Because there are so many more evils to slavery than can be exposed even in a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Love in its many complex forms, desperation, will to live and die by one’s own volition – Powerful themes dealt with beautifully by Toni Morrison. This is a book that will leave a mark, and not only on literature. Beloved’s compelling, non-linear story with its visual, heart-wrenching writing, Beloved is a story not to be forgotten.

Book Review: Little Paranoias by Sonora Taylor

Little Paranoias is a collection of twenty short stories, flash fictions, and poems written by Sonora Taylor, a writer whose easy way with dialogue puts the reader smack-dab within her decidedly dark imagination. I recognized some of the stories from previous publication in “The Siren’s Call” and the Ladies of Horror Podcast, and although all of the stories have merit, my favorite was “Hearts are Just Likes” which is found at about the half-way point of the book. Its modern imagining of Edgar A. Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” made me very happy, indeed! One of her shorter pieces, Stick Figure Family, has a definite sense of humor in its twisted telling. Within the 140 pages, there’s sure to be something especially interesting to any horror lover, which makes this an excellent recommendation.

Book Review: “The Poison Eaters and Other Stories” by Holly Black

Holly Black’s short story collection “The Poison Eaters” showcases her distinctive style and unique take on the paranormal world. To her, there’s nothing unusual for a runaway to be hooked on drugs to keep thoughts of her real home in the fairy realm at bay. A bookworm on a beach might find a mysterious white flower that transforms him into a wolf. (That story, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” had my favorite last line in the collection! Nicely dark.) A girl might visit a graveyard’s Night Market to save her sister in one story while another has a competitive eating contest with the devil to save her dog’s life. “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” exposes the gritty part of vampirism, and there is a story set in Wallingford for fans of Holly Black’s Curse Workers series. The book’s title piece, “The Poison Eaters,” has a Poe-like creepiness to it, and I enjoyed “Paper Cuts Scissors” for its lush, fantastic love of literature and acceptance of goodbye.

This collection showcases twelve wonderful short stories in about 212 pages with diverse characters.

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chboski

There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. That’s certainly true in Stephen Chboski’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In this ya novel, high school freshman Charlie writes letters to us. Yes, I believe they are written to the reader. Charlie’s non-judgemental compassion, self-effacing honesty, and unbiased intellectualism make him a truly loveable friend. His fellow “misfits” Sam and Patrick introduce Charlie to other older teens, and Charlie’s world expands. He truly observes the world around him. Charlie comes from a loving family, but every teen faces challenges. From first dates, kissing, and sex to the importance of a rounded education, freedom of expression, and flouting the rules (and roles), this book negotiates these challenges, all through Charlie’s world view – and Charlie’s is a hopeful outlook, even in the darkest of situations. 

This book was too old for still-at-home kids, but I’m going to recommend it to them when they’re a bit older. It reminded me of the difficulties faced at every age, and I wish I’d have found “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” when I was younger. I know it would have made a meaningful contribution to my life and allowed me to know we are never alone, even when we feel the most isolated.

I read this because I thought it was a precursor to Chbosky’s “Imaginary Friend.” I’ve since discovered my error, but it was a happy mistake.

Book Review: “A Head Full of Ghosts” by Paul Tremblay

Is 14 year old Marjorie mentally ill, or is she possessed? Her financially strapped family seeks help from the medical community and the church, and through it all, her 8-year-old sister Merry listens to Marjorie’s understanding of the ghosts who whisper terrible stories. A tv station films their plight, creating a reality television program of their pain. 

Years later, an author approaches Merry to interview her for an upcoming book. Memories of a confused and frightened little girl are dusted off, reality and perception examined, and a secret pushes like poisonous vines seeking the light.

Paul Tremblay’s “A Head Full of Ghosts” has rightly been compared to works by the great Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. Mr. Tremblay builds a creeping terror and unease without much gore. Within the book, he alludes to other great contemporary tales of terror from film, fiction writing, and headlines. He uses a blog to convey some of the information, bringing another modern component to this novel. In the end, this story sticks with the reader long after the cover thumps to a disquieted close.

Book Review: “The Dead House” by Dawn Kurtagich

As with the other Dawn Kurtagich book I read (Teeth in the Mist), The Dead House uses clever formatting to convey elements of the story. This story is told through diary entries, interviews, emailed communications, redacted hospital notes, transcribed video descriptions, and even Post-it notes which describe a tragic “Johnson Incident” at Elmbridge High.

The main player in this story is suspected of suffering from what was once called “Multiple Personality Disorder” and is now termed “Dissociative Identity Disorder” or D.I.D. by psychologists. She’s lived through the shock of her parents’ death and finds treatment. What her psychiatrist doesn’t understand, however, is she’s always had two separate people dwelling within herself, sisters, one belonging to the daytime, and the other a child of the night. She forms tight friendships at school, but something sinister draws her deep inside herself to the “dead house” and its denizens. 

Shelved as “Young Adult” or “New Adult,” this story skips around some very disturbing subjects, including murder. Its open end leaves room for speculation, theories, and a sequel or two.

Book Review: Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich

Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich is an ambitious, atmospheric novel. It follows several timelines through diary entries, letters, journals, and the story itself.

Story line one sets up the Gothic sensibility, with Fostos who makes a deal with the devil to live an immortal life. There is a cost, though, that Fostos willingly pays – he must give souls to hell. (Where does a soul reside, and can it be ripped from a host?) Fostos somehow finds ways to ferret out the soul through organ extrication and a water wheel, which leads to story line two. Said water wheel needed to be built, and what better place to build than over the very spot Fostos made his original pact, on a mountain of slate and death? Under an assumed name, he oversees the construction of Mill House. Workers and his own children go missing. His wife witnesses his communication with a huge black goat and fights to save her last boy.)

In the 1800’s, a young orphan with unusual abilities is taken to Mill House where she meets other wards of the mysterious Dr. Maudley. Things get a bit muddled, people go missing, and a brutal sadist is hired to teach a young boy (and not Roan or the other female ward) the legend of Faust.

And in modern times, a teen named Zoey is drawn to Mill House where her father went mad.

The novel is peppered with interesting typeface and unusual formatting, pictures and illustrations, and some DaVinci-style letters. It is presented almost like a found-footage film, which means it is disjointed. There are grisly scenes and interesting concepts, but the novel leaves the reader requiring Ms. Kurtagich’s promised sequel to tie up a good number of loose ends.

Book Review: “A Curse So Dark and Lonely” by Brigid Kemmerer

You know the story of Beauty and the Beast, with its cursed prince seeking redemption through love. Brigid Kemmerer reimagines the tale with world-jumping adventures. This YA (young adult)/ NA (new adult) title is told in alternating chapters by its lead characters, Rhen (the cursed Prince of Emberfall) and Harper (a young woman with a lot of problems in her own home of Washington, DC, where thugs seek her absent father, shake down her protective brother, and her mother is losing her battle with cancer.) 

Harper is a cool character. When she witnesses an apparent abduction in progress, she charges in to help, armed with a lead pipe left on the roadside. The would-be attacker snatches the feisty heroine and whisks her to the Kingdom of Emberfall where it’s hoped she’ll be wooed by the cursed Prince Rhen. However, Harper doesn’t take being kidnapped well, and despite some difficulties because of her Cerebral Palsy, she escapes their confines. She learns of the troubles of the kingdom, witnesses the cruelty of Lilith (who cursed and tortures Rhen), and comes to admire the Prince and his complex Guard (and kidnapper) Grey. Harper’s compassion, spirit, and insite make her a likeable and compelling character. She charms Rhen, Grey, and the kingdom. 

The end of the novel switches to a different character’s Point of View which promises a sequel, though the book stands well on its own. Some of the scenes, including Lilith’s glee-filled torture and the ravages of war, pack a grim punch, but the novel includes humor, bravery, and sweetness. I look forward to reading this book’s sequel with my own little Prince and Princess (who teared up when she realized Harper had Cerebral Palsy – just like her!)

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