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Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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non-fiction

Book Review: Shadow Show

Twenty-six writers pay tribute to the celebrated American author Ray Bradbury in the anthology Shadow Show edited by Mort Castle and Sam Weller. Each contributed story is followed by an anecdote about how Mr. Bradbury influenced the author or their work. This curated list of writers includes amazing talent, including Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Alice Hoffman, Harlan Ellison, Robert McCammon, and Margaret Atwood. As if these literary heavy-hitters aren’t enough of a draw, even the cover “recommendations” are cool, with my favorite penned by Stan Lee. 

As with any anthology, there were favorite stories, and mine all capture the nostalgic sweetness I associate with Ray Bradbury. The opening story, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” by Neil Gaiman, brought me to tears. Alice Hoffman’s beautiful prose shone in “Conjured,” with its obvious nods to “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” 

In this anthology, youthful friendships and coming-of-age rule. Pilgrims find a new Eden. Monsters and pages blow along beaches. Movies enchant. We learn never to play in certain basements. Love is discovered in surprising places. Inspiration can be unlikely. Most of all, though, stories live through readers. 

With so many authors offering their takes on the very idea and influence of the great Ray Bradbury, there’s bound to be quite a few “hits” and “misses.” Overall, though, I found this vast book held my interest, made me laugh at times, and brought a deeper appreciation for a man I already admired. And, it won prestigious awards for its prose in 2012, the year of its publication (and the year of Ray Bradbury’s death.)

Book Review: The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay

The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay, told in the first person by a sarcastic, narcoleptic private investigator, mixes humor with an engaging noir detective storyline. The sensitive handling of PI Mark’s medical condition added to the reading experience. He’s a self-effacing lead who presses on despite his considerable hurdles. Set in Boston, the investigation in question involves a less-than-talented and powerfully connected “brat,”  black and white photographs and what becomes something like a snuff film, and a link to the lead’s mysterious past. The unreliable nature of the lead’s mental state keeps readers – and the lead – on their toes. The novel is peppered with witty prose, but my favorite quote from the book is “hope is a desperate man’s currency.”  So, for fans of the “hard boiled detective novel,” especially Phillip Marlow, after which the title is cleverly patterned, this is a fun, contemporary excursion into the genre.

Book Review: Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Like a voracious werewolf, Stephen Graham Jones tears into the lycanthropy legend, devours parts and digs into others. The result is a moody coming of age tale, Mongrels. Told by a young boy who has yet to show lycanthrope traits, readers learn of a mobile family group living on the fringes of society. The story has darkly humorous bits mixed throughout the horror and the often poignant explorations of ostracization and acceptance. The story comes in spurts, and I think that’s by design. It’s almost a series of short glimpses into their wacky, nomadic life, with an aunt and uncle who raise the young storyteller from the age of eight until eighteen. These vignettes keep the reading experience sort of chaotic, just like the life of this kind of wacky, dangerous monster family. For an original exploration of the werewolf legend and a glimpse into an non-traditional family with an abundance of love for one another, Mongrels is the book.

Novella Review: Gwendy’s Button Box written by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

As a fan of magical realism, I was enchanted by Gwendy’s Button Box written by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. I understand the two authors collaborated after a long-time internet friendship, with Mr. King reaching out to Mr. Chizmar to finish the story begun many years prior but not finished. The collaboration produced a beautiful and strangely uplifting novella. In it, a middle school girl decides to climb the Suicide Stairway in a park in Castle Rock to lose weight after being teased. At the top, she meets a mysterious man who presents her with a peculiar box. Gwendy suspects the box has tremendous power and decides to keep it safe.

There are some possible triggers, including attempted rape, suicide, and murder, but all are necessary for the story’s advancement, and the overarching tale has the feel of a charming fairy tale. I recommend it.

Book Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group follows a group of women dealing with their survival of Hellish experiences involving killers. They had fought back and survived, but to deal with the emotional and psychological problems resulting thereof, they bond by keeping in touch monthly and sort-of looking out for one another. When one of their number fails to attend, the story begins.

The book is told from one of the final girls’ perspectives, and she, in truth, is not the most likeable person. She is a bit of a recluse and has a ton of issues. (Who wouldn’t, though? I imagine I might be in the same predicament if I endured such an experience.) I will say, though, Grady Hendrix writes women well. 

Although this book is more of a thriller, fans of classic horror will recognize lots of references, such as the intriguing “Dream King” (ie Freddy K.) Hendrix uses humor in his recreations, and this book has some truly lovely twists, too.

Book Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

In The Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni retells the ages-old Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective. It is a vast tale with wars and gods and a mystical palace lost in a game of chance. The main character is handed over to not one groom but five, all while secretly pining for a different man entirely. A familiarity with the Mahabharata is recommended but not necessary. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the perspectives. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni obviously loves the cultural impact of the story and sets out to right the wrongs. She is a bit heavy-handed with the foreshadowing, though. However, some of the sweeping descriptions transports readers to a land where spices and a magical garden scent the air and war is overseen by the gods themselves.

A 99 Word Carrot Ranch Cacophonic Lament

Charli Mills posted a new word prompt, but since I am sick and feeling a bit sorry for myself, this is my response. I suggest you check out https://carrotranch.com for happier responses. And if you feel so inclined, I can uses some virtual chicken soup.

This Sickness

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Someone with a ball peen hammer pounds every joint, stretching muscle and ligament until bone grinds cartilage.

An orchestra warms-up between the ears, its cacophony deafening, with pulse matching its erratic rhythm.

Eyes receded into aching sockets, where lightshows dance along the periphery.

Shadows sink into vision, obscuring. Strained eyesight triggers migraines, with comic book enthusiasm. “Bang, Pow, Pop!”

Razorblades reside in vocal cords, stripping speech to a barely audible squeak. Amusing to the children.

An anaconda squeezes the midsection, shrinking stomach capacity.

Hazy zombie turns to exhausted fever dreams between doses of medicine that promise returned good health.

Review: Weirdsmith Magazine

Terry M. West is an author and publisher whose fertile imagination is always producing. His latest publishing venture is Weirdsmith, a series of publications that highlights a particular author of Terry’s choosing per issue, with nightmarish covers of Terry’s design. The issues are available through Kindle (free with Kindle U at the moment, if you’re a part of that program!), as a soft-cover, and in HARD COVER. (You read that right! Hard cover!) The results of these collaborations are wicked fun!

For issue one, Tylor James created two short pieces to fill the eighty pages with creepy goodness. The first, “Mosquito Summer,” is a “creature feature” to make your skin crawl, while the second story, “Old Dance Hall” is a ghost story with a bittersweet romance. Both would be perfect for a camping trip or a stop by the lake, assuming you pack your bug repellent!

Weirdsmith Issue two features an enormous skull on the cover and the reliable writing talent of D.S. Ullery who fills the slim volume with the teeth and swirling claws of a summoned CarNex demon in Bog Rats Draw Blood, while Graffitti visits an abandoned house with stories in its walls. These quick tales of revenge have a surprising heart.

Terry M. West’s cover of Weirdsmith issue three features a huge, skull-faced, winged demon, hands alight with malignant magic, looming over an old-fashioned carnival. Shaun Hupp shares his out-of-print Trailer Park, a tale of a man bent on punishing his ex-wife and the residents of the ironically named Pleasant Palaces trailer park. To that end, he summoned the CarNex demon, and the bloody results leave quite a mark.

Weirdsmith issue four boasts an E. R. Robin Dover re-release – his The Evil One, a tale where a  New York City Mayor unleashes the CarNex to keep his beloved city safe. Also included is a new short story, Simple Man wherein a fellow tries to follow his mother’s wish that he make a difference as a simple man. Dover fills the forty-three pages of the magazine with as much gory goodness as can be managed, and Terry M. West put together a cover worthy of contemplation, with a grieving person kneeling before a skull beneath a goblinish demon with dead eyes.

Now, I’ll admit I have a reason for favoritism, by my favorite Weirdsmith cover is volume five, featuring a gothic scene complete with an alluring, dark-haired woman. Terry M. West outdid himself, if you ask me. How could I help but write something inspired with such source material at my disposal? I also used Terry’s demonic creation, the CarNex, in my first story, Magnificent Feast, but the source of its release is a bit surprising. The result is a bloody mess of a gorefest. The second story, Feel it in the Bones, trips through a graveyard where a group of scholars finds more than they expect. In all, these seventy-nine pages are presented for your pleasure, if you enjoy spewed blood and guts, ravenous monsters, marauding packs of pets, and misguided youth.

That’s all the Weirdsmith magnificence available at the moment, but I hope there will be new issues soon.

Book Review: “The Red Brick Road” by Levi Bronze

Fans of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series will find much to admire in Levi Bronze’s “The Red Brick Road.” In it, Dorothy from Kansas journeys to Oz, but she’s lured from the yellow brick path to walk a different journey, one where she’s encouraged to fulfill her desires and worry about herself first. It’s ultimately a tale of redemption with much to say about the value of tenacity and friendship. There are plenty of intriguing characters and conflict in need of resolution, and my MG reader kids enjoyed it very much. 

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