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Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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Book Review: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Book Review: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Told in cell phone records, photographic and video evidence, clinical notes, and first person narrative, Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall presents an absorbing, scary story. Teens headed by a grieving sister undertake the potentially deadly journey along a mysterious “road” that only appears once a year. There are rules to survive the experience, though, rules many of them break. But Sara’s determined to find her sister, the beloved Becca, who disappeared on a similar journey the previous year. The group encounters perils and horrors along the way. Some prove their inner strength, loyalty, and bravery. Others face personal guilt. Friendship and love sees some of them to the end of the mysterious road.

Riddled with references to a myth from Brittany but with the feel of a modern urban legend, Rules for Vanishing is cinematic in its approach to story telling. The imagery is as lasting as it is disturbing. I couldn’t help rooting for the main character, Sara. I found myself baffled by some of the decisions of the group, but people in such an extreme circumstance make questionable decisions. 

This well-written book leaves questions and an obvious open-end that promises further journeys, be they along Y’s mythical road or populated with its pitiful inhabitants.

Book Review: Green Angel written by Alice Hoffman

Book Review: Green Angel written by Alice Hoffman

In this charming novella (the story’s told in about 120 pages), Alice Hoffman weaves poetry and repetition into a tale of survivor’s guilt and personal reconciliation. It follows Green, a fifteen year old who resents being left behind when the rest of her family traveled to the city. Green tended the garden instead of wishing them a successful journey. When she takes lunch atop a hill that overlooks her family’s destination, she witnesses a disaster. Someone set the place ablaze. Ash coated everything. Smoke blocked out the sunlight. Despair blighted Green’s heart when she realized her family would never return. However, this resourceful young woman recreates herself and helps many others along the way. 

Alice Hoffman’s magical interpretation of emotion, her grasp of parallels in nature and life’s events, and her lyrical language make a potentially sad story truly beautiful. In the final acknowledgements, I was touched to discover the author donated her portion of the profits from the book’s sales to The New York Women’s Foundation.

Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

The Tenth Girl begins as an interesting Gothic-type tale set in an elite South American boarding school. The young teacher, Mavi, provides one P.O.V. A spirit named Angel provides another. The timeline jumps around, and there is a significant, and for many confusing, twist at the end. In fact, unless the reader is familiar with certain “lingo,” none of the early clues and foreshadowing will be easily interpreted. Additionally, this is not a “fast read.”

Fair warning: This story includes pedophilia, human sacrifice, and sexual assault. Also, to preserve the surprise at the end, don’t peek at the naked cover!

Book Review: Dear Laura by Gemma Amor

Book Review: Dear Laura by Gemma Amor

This novella is meant to disturb, and it succeeds. 

Told in the third person, limited perspective, the tale of an obsessed killer and a grieving, confused young girl fluidly jumps from past to present. The story feels like a bit of a gut-punch, which is a testimony to the author’s ability.

Poor Laura is a bit of a latch-key kid, but the lifestyle didn’t impede her. She’s a sweet girl, a good student, and as she turned thirteen, she and her childhood best friend Bobby began to “go steady.” On their way to school one day, Laura witnessed Billy’s abduction. Shortly there after, the grieving friend receives a letter from Bobby’s abductor. In exchange for information about her friend, the “pen pal” X demands a deeply personal item from Laura. 

The abductor manipulates Laura year after year, dropping a letter around her birthday. He stalks her into her adulthood and crushes any bursts of self-possession. After years of living in terror, the letters stop, and Laura allows herself to fall in love with a man, marry, and bare a son. As a middle-aged woman, Laura receives another letter, and this one threatens her son. Laura interprets the clues in the letters to finally confront her tormentor and find closure.

The limited perspective feels claustrophobic, which gives a glimpse of the anxiety Laura experiences. Her secrets distance her from everyone around. Her connection with X and by extension Bobby and her own lost childhood consume her. Sadness, guilt, and terror shroud her until she at last finds her way “always on, and never back.”

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Oh my gosh, let me wipe the mascara from beneath my eyes before I begin. 

Yes, if you read this book, there will be tears. It is, indeed, profoundly moving.

A boy named Conor struggles with the complicated and powerful feelings. His mother’s undergoing treatments for a serious illness (probably cancer). His father’s absent, his only school friend betrayed him, and the kids at school mostly act as though he’s contagious (except the polished bully, Harry, and Harry’s two cronies). Even the teachers treat him differently, and he and his posh Grandma (with whom he must live while his Mum’s at the hospital) don’t exactly get along. Conor is alone in his grief, unable to process how everyone else can carry on with life as though nothing was wrong. His days blur in a shrouded, gray loneliness until, at 12:07AM, a yew tree becomes a monster who comes for a call. The monster tells Conor three stories and demands a fourth from the boy, a story that may save the boy’s life. 

Stories, the boy wonders. Why, when there are so many important things to deal with, would this ancient being with more names than there are years to time itself tell stories, and why would it need Conor’s? “Stories are the wildest things of all,” the monster rumbled. 

Facing the mortality of a loved one is life-altering for anyone. For a child, especially if the death is of a parent, the experience is a monster.

A Monster Calls is beautifully written. It pulls the readers in and holds them in a strangle hold of emotion. It shows “there is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.” and “Many things that are true feel like a cheat.” Most of all, it shows how complicated and important it is to tell the truth. The deep-down, personal truth.

My copy was illustrated by Jim Kay in atmospheric black-and-white. Patrick Ness and the publishers at Candlewick Press drew inspiration for the book from Siobhan Dowd’s original four books. There’s a heart-felt introduction by Patrick Ness explaining Dowd’s quartet of superb books. She intended to write the fifth, but she died before she could. “…the thing about good ideas is they grow other ideas,” said Ness, and so he took up the challenge to complete the series.

I’ve not yet read those first books by Siobhan Dowd, but I intend to, and I will read more by Patrick Ness. I’ll be forewarned, however, to keep tissues on hand.

Review: The Lift: 9 Stories of Transformation Volume 1

Book Review: The Lift: Nine Stories of Transformation Volume One (2018)

Edited by Daniel Foytik and Scarlett R. Algee

What makes this anthology unique is not only does it feature solid story telling, but there’s also a unifying theme. You see, Once upon a time, The Lift becomes lost, and a well-mannered little girl named Victoria ushers equally lost souls through a potential second chance while her music box tinkles out creepy tunes. 

Further, these stories (and those of subsequent volumes) are performed and produced at the podcast  https://victoriaslift.com/ . Another distinctive feature of this anthology is it is peppered with Jeannette Andromeda’s excellent artwork and drawings by Daniel Foytik. Sprinkle with poetry and the atmospheric music from the podcast, and this anthology’s a win!

Nine stories. Nine stops on this episodic exploration of what could be plucked from Dickens – or Serling! My favorites of the nine stories were “Cake” by Nelson W. Pyles and “Escape” by K.B. Goddard, although I’ll admit,  “The Final One” by Charles Rakiecz touched me enough to make me misty-eyed. 

The anthology is, in short, well done, as is the podcast. And for those with Kindle U, it is FREE at the moment.

 

Book Review: The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste displays her obvious love of language in her Rust Maidens, a tragic story of transformation. Told from the perspective of Phoebe, the story begins in Cleveland, Ohio, USA during the collapse of the steel industry in the early 1980’s. The residents of Denton Street face the unknown. The workers strike for better conditions from their failing steel mill. The housewives drink spiked tea, plan social functions, and gossip. And the youth prepare for their futures. Eighteen-year-old Phoebe longs to escape the oppression of impending ruin with her best friend Jacqueline just after graduation. She has her Impala gassed up and ready to flee, but fate has another plan.

Several young women begin to change, to somehow assume the decay around them, to become a part of the town in an unexpected way. The strange affliction rots their flesh in ways Guillermo del Toro would admire. The rust maidens become dangerous representations of the declining state of the community.

Rebellious and independent, Phoebe never fit the adults’ idea of acceptable. As a kid, she created a sanctuary for insects from her tree house instead of playing with dolls like other girls. Her one true link to the unaccepting town is her cousin Jacqueline. When Jacqueline becomes afflicted with the mysterious curse of the Rust Maidens, Phoebe attempts to save them.

As the strange transformation worsens, government agents fall upon the town to test the girls. The frightened citizens use them as scapegoats for their deteriorating situations. Phoebe never truly loses her love for her friend. Her compassion for the plight of the rust maidens drives her to reckless efforts. Instead of inspiring empathy, the town targets Phoebe, heaping blame on her young shoulders.

Thick with nostalgic detail, The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste evokes an introspective horror, one where our own insecurities could manifest as assimilation into an unrepentant, blinded, and declining community.

https://www.amazon.com/Rust-Maidens-Gwendolyn-Kiste-ebook/dp/B07GVSDYDD/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=gwendolyn+kiste&qid=1580623134&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

Book Review: A Flash of Words

Book Review: A Flash of Words (an anthology by 49 authors published by Scout Media)

 

Flash fiction anthologies offer quick tastes of many authors’ works. They afford the opportunity to sample styles and genres while becoming introduced to new, often experimental, approaches to storytelling. A Flash of Words, published by Scout Media in 2019, includes within its 217 pages 49 distinct, brief stories by unique writers from around the globe. 

The stories represent several genres, from horror to heart-warming. Please note: Some of the offerings might trigger readers with their mention of rape (not elaborated upon), war, death, violence, and suicide. However, all of the stories will leave an impression. 

Since there are so many titles and artists, I’ll mention some of my favorites instead of giving impressions of them all. 

“A Family Thing” by Eldred Bird features an imaginative kid, and I found it delightful. 

“The White Poodle” by William G. Edwards proves appearances can deceive. Giggle.

“Superhero for Sale” by Marc Hemingway charmed me with its conversational job interview for a would-be super hero.

“Tooth” by Christine King provides a twisted look into a surprising job.

“Ugly Girl” by Jason Pere delved into teen hatred in an intuitive way.

“Albatross” by Elizabeth Montague visceral exploration of war incorporated the senses.

“Cimmerian Shade” by T.C. Morgan had my heart racing as inhuman creatures stalked a family.

“For the Want of a Name” by Dawn Taylor brought a bitter-sweet nostalgia.

“Barely a Story” by William Thatch, told from an unusual perspective, made a mundane danger darkly amusing. 

It’s interesting reading short story anthologies, because truly, each new title brings something different. For those short on time (or attention span), or for those enamored of brief dances with literary partners (like at a square dance or Victorian ball, complete with a dance card – haha!), anthologies are perfect. Collections allow diverse tastes to discover new favorite styles, genres, and authors.

Book Review: Baker – Demons and Other Night Things by Terry M. West

Once again, Terry M. West turns his devious writing talents to craft a devilishly gory collection of tales. Horrors best contained, maddening visions, and surprisingly charming monsters! This collection of short stories follows the unflappable Baker Johnson who reminds me of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the old television paranormal detective Kolchek. (Yep, showing my age, kiddies…) This timeless character strolls into West’s rich, monster-filled universe with the command necessary to gain respect. Using a nightmare demon, Mr. Stucke, and H.P. Lovecraft himself, West joins his creepy contemporary Night Things with the period perfection refined by Baker. This collection of five short stories provides an excellent introduction to the rich, monster-populated, often gory, and always entertaining world Terry M. West creates.

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