Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black


book review

Book Review: Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwedolyn Kiste

Book Review: Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste

This charming novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste, leaves me with a warm smile. This clever, creepy story has a lot of heart.

The Marys of urban legends and nursery tales form a sort of family that stands together against an approaching darkness that threatens to consume them. 

The main character, Rhea or “Resurrection Mary,” haunts a stretch of highway. She collects the “fear energy” expelled by those she frightens when they offer her a ride and she disappears or transforms into something frightening. This “fear energy” is combined with what her sisters have collected, and the Marys feast in their dawn to dusk spirit home.

Five Marys in one house, each with her own personality, require their own nick names. Five Marys who collect fear energy from the living in her own way. There’s Mistress Mary who’s Quite Contrary whose flowers are deadly. There’s Bloody Mary who appears in a mirror when called upon. There’s sweet “Miss Mary Mack” who apparently is dressed in black with silver buttons down the back because she’s preparing for her eventual funeral. And not to be forgotten is the liquor-loving, horse-skull carrying Mari Lwyd (In Welsh folklore, this hobby horse is brought out to celebrate at Christmas).

Although time works differently in the land of the dead, several of the Marys form friendships with the living. These folks can be counted on to call upon their Marys, because who doesn’t want a little scare now and then? However, when the darkness takes substance, the Marys must unravel the mystery of their origins to save themselves from perpetual, tear-filled sleep.

This story harkens to the Gothic joy of “The Addams Family.”  It channels Tim Burton’s darkly nostalgic sweetness. And yet it is all and beautifully Gwendolyn Kiste.

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.

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.

Book Review: Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire

Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire tells of a meandering youth, Dirk Drosselmeier, on a journey to reconcile his lack of childhood with a decidedly romantic heart. A foundling raised by an “old man and old woman” in a woodcutter’s cottage, the youth learned fairy tales but not love. Disfigured after a deadly accident, the child wanders like a lost soul, assailed by nature spirits who charged him with a confusing task – Find a home for their displaced, mythical land, their “little lost forest.”

In truth, I liked the end of this tale much better than its disjointed beginning. I think the “artistic journey” is often a bit of a ramble, but Dirk Drosselmeier takes over 200 pages to get to a point where I feel he’s almost comfortable in his own essence. From there, it takes another almost 80 pages to come to terms with his lot in life.

But isn’t life like that? We are often children, wandering through our own fairy tale forests, searching to come to some sort of understanding of ourselves. We face heartaches and challenges, are rejected, misunderstood, and, when lucky, loved and appreciated. However, “Who mourns a toymaker? Toys get broken…”

I, for one, mourn broken toys. I cherish childhood and revel in Christmases.

Thus, I adored Klara, but alas, she came so late into the story.

This book confused the younger readers to whom I read. I found myself translating for them, which was distracting. However, I don’t believe Mr. Maguire intended this book for the young. This is not a fast-paced story with tons of action. No, it is more of a nostalgic stroll through a landscape at once familiar and yet somehow not.

Although this is not my favorite of Gregory Maguire’s books, Hiddensee contains lyrical passages and an interesting blend of folklore, mythology, and art that intrigued. And the end made the reading experience worthwhile.

Book Review: The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review: The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates


In recent history, women have been held as alternately paragons of virtue or emotional, fragile beings incapable of defending themselves. 

Joyce Carol Oates turns that notion on its ear with this collection of short stories, The Female of the Species. 

Men have often exploited women, preyed upon their vulnerabilities. Certainly, that happens in many of these short stories. In fact, the first story in the collection proved difficult (almost impossible) for me to read. However, read it I did, and I am glad. 

Oates explores femininity, liberation (sexual, emotional, and financial), parenthood, and individuality in her own unique style. I recognized some of the stories from other sources (Such as “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine”), but it was interesting to revisit them. Certainly, they were thought-provoking and boundary-pushing. Fans of crime fiction should enjoy these nine stories by a modern master.


Book Review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

Book Review:

The Twisted Ones written by T. Kingfisher (pseudonym of Ursilla Vernon)

Let me begin by saying knocking against a house in the middle of the night is NEVER a woodpecker, no matter how much a character may hope it to be.

That said, The Twisted Ones is told in a humorous first person by “Mouse” as, with the help of her faithful hound Bongo, she cleans out her horrible hoarder grandmother’s house. (How’s that for alliteration?) As she does so, she discovers her step-grandfather’s journal, looks for a lost manuscript, and discovers some creepy secrets. Luckily for her, she also befriends some aging hippies, including the irrepressible and resourceful Foxy.

The Twisted Ones is T. Kingfisher’s (pseudonym for Ursilla Vernon) take on Arthur Machen’s 1904 short story “The White People.” If you’re familiar with Machen’s story, the influence becomes apparent early on in The Twisted Ones. It has a healthy dose of folklore, charming interaction between the heroine and her pooch, a truly great friend, and just enough of the Gothic influences and nods to H.P. Lovecraft to keep horror fans interested. There was an instance of stereotyping that made me a bit cringy (Mouse expresses a supposition that the police officer is uneducated or lacking intelligence simply because he’s from a small town), and the narrator twists her words around to provide a lot of repetition (which was distracting and a bit annoying, though it might have been used to give insight into the stresses Mouse experiences.) However, there were also some wonderful quotes, including: “Monsters are stressful…” and “…maybe it was just perfectly innocent devil worship….” and “Families run on optimistic lies sometimes…” and overall, it was an enjoyable story.

I participated in the Ladies of Horror Readalong of this book and borrowed this book from my local library to do so.

Book Review: Slender Man is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet edited by Trevor J. Blank and Lynne S. McNeill

Book Review: “Slender Man is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet” edited by Trevor J. Blank and Lynne S. McNeill

This little non-fiction exploration of the Slender Man mythos packs a LOT of information into its 177 pages. It features nine essays that delve into the success of the modern folk lore that grew up around a Creepy Pasta meme. Well-researched and filled with citations and some photos, “Slender Man is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet” researches how Slender Man moved from the realm of modern legend and became a part of many young peoples’ beliefs – and how those beliefs caused mischief, lawbreaking, self-harm, and attempted murder.

I do wish the typeface was larger and better spaced, however. (Those with better functioning eyes would probably not find this to be an issue. haha!)

Book Review: Abnormal by A. J. Mullican

Book Review: Abnormal by A. J. Mullican

This “New Adult” dystopian sci-fi story drops action on the reader right away. Diminutive Clare lives in a sort of hiding. “Abnormal” people like her (She’s a telepath) are killed off if their families don’t have enough “credits” in their accounts. Although Clare has a passable network of friends and a fake ID, there’s someone who’s after her – someone with intimate understanding of Clare’s situation and personality.

Clare fights off attackers, an attempted rape, and escapes to a sort of hidden community with the help of a dashing stranger. She seems to use her sexuality as a way to defuse the tensions of living in such a hellish place as “Heaven’s Light” and its time of intolerance and classism. 

Packed with action, violence, and strong world-building, A. J. Mullican’s book hints at a sequel.

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