I read a book: Troll, by Matthew A. Clarke

The dedication reads “for anyone that’s been a victim of online abuse”. The first chapter describes a suicide encouraged by an online friend from a forum of other folks experiencing suicidal ideation and I just knew that this was gonna be another Clarke shaped wrinkle in my brain. I’ve read a few of his books now and each one is weird, horrifying, and heartfelt in its own way and after the first chapter, I had no doubt that Troll would leave its mark on me as well.

Scotty is an average teenage boy plagued by a mystery skin condition that he somehow manages to hide from his mother until it spreads to his face. He finds himself on a forum where just recently another young person interacted with a troll who encouraged her to follow through with her suicidal thoughts. He doesn’t know this yet, so he is receptive when he hits it off with a woman named Rebecca on the forum. When she blocks him after agreeing to meet in person, he goes on the offensive and uses his computer skills to hack into her webcam and find out who she really is.

He finds more than he bargained for and takes these findings to his friend Casper (and Ms Starchy) and this is where the story starts going down that bizarro rabbit hole. Scotty and friends discuss whether this troll is a Troll or just a sad sack on the internet. Scott learns about his father and eventually finds his purpose in life. And the troll…well, you’ll have to read it to find out.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. It’s a short read, but it’ll stick with you. I like the way Clarke writes about real world things like incels or internet trolls in a bizarro horror light that still manages to weave in his brand of humor and heart. If you’re a fan of bizarro horror and aren’t reading Clarke’s work, why the heck not?

Big thanks to Matthew A. Clarke, Planet Bizarro Press, and Booksprout for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Troll, by Matthew A. Clarke on Amazon for a couple bucks. And you should, because it’s great.

I read a book: The Cursed Among Us, by John Durgin

I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this book in the horror social media circle. I am generally wary of books with a lot of social media buzz, because oftentimes it is more a sign of a strong marketing campaign than it is of a great book (see the CoHo* phenomenon). When John Durgin offered Audible codes for The Cursed Among Us to reviewers, I decided it’s time to see what all the fuss is about. I found the kindle version available on KU and read along with the Audible narration.

I have seen this book described as a lot of things that I am usually not interested in reading. Coming of age. YA. Kids vs evil. Nostalgic? It is definitely not YA, despite the main characters being a group of teenagers. Yes, they unleash and then end up fighting an evil force. There are lots of references to bands and movies of my youth. Are the boys now reaching 40 and keeping their parents’ secrets? I can’t help but laugh when I think about the world I grew up in being considered retro. Apparently the 90s are in, because my own teenager has asked me what it was like growing up in the 90s on countless occasions. And I suppose it could be described as a coming of age story. But what a way to come of age.

This is the story of a group of teenage friends who accidentally unearth a town secret when they venture too far into the woods. They’ve been warned all their lives not to do that, but they’re filming a horror movie for class (and for funsies) and need the perfect spooky location. They stumble onto a grave site marked with stones covered in unfamiliar sigils, and their fictional horror story becomes reality. What follows is a string of grisly deaths at the hands of dead witch possessed by a demon and the kid who acts as her puppet. For a minute it looks like evil will prevail, but the boys are determined to fight it until the bitter end. There are survivors, but there is no happy ending. We are left with a hint that the story is not over yet. It’s not quite a cliffhanger and it ends on a note that doesn’t really need a sequel, but there is an opening for one.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Durgin crafts a compelling story in a way that manages to make the reader cringe at some of the descriptions while being unable to take their eyes off the page. Joe Hempel’s performance is great, as usual. I’ve never been disappointed by a Joe Hempel narration. I wonder if Howie got his ass whooped for missing curfew. I know you just watched half the town get murdered by a supernatural horror, but rules are rules, son. If you like horror but don’t necessarily want to read the more extreme variety I usually review, check this one out. It is not YA, but I would be comfortable recommending it to teenagers and adults alike.

Big thanks to John Durgin for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy The Cursed Among us, by John Durgin on Amazon for a couple bucks or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

*I just want to clarify that CoHo gets no hate from me. I’ve read a few of her books and liked them well enough, but I consider them popcorn. Nothing wrong with that, I love popcorn. I read a lot of books that are dark and disturbing and sometimes I just want to chomp my way through something light and airy. And something I’ve seen from a lot of CoHo superfans is that her books got them interested in reading or rekindled an old love of reading and that’s always a win in my book.

I read a book: Orchard of Skeletons, by Eli Wilde

I read a book of poetry written from the perspective of a vampire by Eli Wilde not too long ago. I wrote a brief review stating that I liked parts of it, but it fell a bit short for me. I rated it 3/5 because there was plenty that I did like about it. The author saw my review and offered me the opportunity to read his upcoming dystopian horror novel, Orchard of Skeletons. I read the synopsis on Goodreads and accepted.

Let me tell you, the synopsis does not do this book justice. The story is told from the perspective of a young man, who is initially unnamed, making his way through life in a dystopian future. Most of humanity was killed off by a sickness long ago. The remaining humans are mostly infertile, making fertile people (especially women) a hot commodity. Babies and fertile people are regularly kidnapped and sold to the Mountain People, remnants of a previous generation who fled the pandemic and hid under a mountain. The Mountain People didn’t anticipate the impending infertility crisis and now resort to kidnapping women and breeding them repeatedly to keep the population from dying out completely.

This story begins with our narrator, later given the name Isaac, telling us about his position as a mechanic at Sloan’s garage. He tells us that he is paid in crap food, beer, and sex with the owner’s daughter Macy. Sloan uses her to pay off his gambling debt and apparently his employees salaries. Macy’s entire existence before meeting Isaac has been inside her bedroom, waiting for meal time and whatever “guests” Sloan sent in.

One of those frequent visitors is a man named Finch, Sloan’s brother. Finch is as nasty as they come, a man made for survival in their world. He is known far and wide as the guy who doesn’t just take his vengeance on anyone who crosses him, he makes sure everyone around knows it. He likes to chop off and barbecue (and eat) the limbs of living people. He leaves heads and torsos lying around and burns buildings and vehicles to the ground as added warning. You know, in case anyone isn’t terrified of being dismembered and eaten while they’re still alive. It’s very effective and plays a big part in this story.

Isaac’s visits with Macy are different from the rest. She finds herself attached to him because he treats her like a person, something to which she is unaccustomed. They get to a point where they sort of acknowledge that there’s something different about their relationship, and then they find themselves in a predicament. Sloan and his wife are dead and they need to run or face Finch’s wrath. Unfortunately, neither of them have any real life experience so they have no idea what to take with them or where to go or anything practical. They steal some cash (which is no longer valuable to anyone other than Sloan) and a solar powered Mustang. Isaac’s driving skills are limited to moving cars around the garage, but he gets the hang of it and they are on their way to the beach, despite neither of them knowing where that is or if it’s even a real place. The rest of the book details their journey, the people (and replicants) they meet along the way, and the Finch’s relentless pursuit. He has plans for them and will not be stopped.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This was really good. The writing style evolves with the narrator. In the beginning it is simplistic and aloof, but as the story progresses and Isaac forms relationships and grows as a person, it reflects his growth. Orchard of Skeletons is the book Isaac wrote to chronicle their journey. Is that a spoiler? Whoops. I’m sure I’ll be reading more of Wilde’s work.

Big thanks to Eli Wilde for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Orchard of Skeletons on Amazon and begin reading it on March 27, 2023.

I read a book: Cthulhu Fishing Off the Iraq Nebula, by Chris Meekings

This is one of those books that drew me in on multiple levels. First there’s the cover art depicting a person in a space suit tethered to something with Cthulhu in the background. Then there’s the title which is just so freaking bizarre that you just have to read the synopsis. And then there’s the synopsis. It’s the story of a man flying through space in his AI controlled house in pursuit of the elder god who destroyed the Earth (and everything else in its path). It’s a little bit Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe and a lotta bit Moby Dick.

There’s just something about how this is written that I love. It feels familiar, like I’m reading a friend’s diary. The opening line, in space no one can hear you vomit, hooked me. The fact that the main character never programmed his house’s AI is super relatable. How many times have you installed some new software or set up a new device and skipped the customization during setup, rationalizing that you will take care of that later. The plot is ridiculous, as I expect of any good bizarro story, but EnterUserName’s mental and emotional journey is quite relatable. The reader follows him as he uses alcoholism to cope with the realization that he is the last remaining human (and possibly last living thing in the universe), makes a friend, loses a friend, thinks he’s gone crazy, realizes that maybe there’s no point in revenge, and eventually finds his peace. I found myself just laughing at the absurdity of it all with him at the end.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Ultimately, this made me smile. Maybe it doesn’t go anywhere, but it goes where it needs to. I like how it just sort of ends rather than wrapping up with a tidy solution. It just ends. The reader knows what happens without it being written.

Big thanks to Chris Meekings, Planet Bizarro, and Booksprout for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Cthulhu Fishing Off the Iraq Nebula on Amazon and begin reading it on March 15, 2023.

I read a book: Gone, by Michael Grant

I saw this book at Barnes & Noble a while back and looked for it on Libby as I often do. The synopsis described it as Lord of the Flies, if Stephen King had written it. While I am not the biggest King fan, I did find the concept intriguing. I put a hold on both audio and kindle versions of the book and waited for my turn.

Initially I didn’t love the narration. That is not to say the narrator did a poor job, he did not. It was just a little slow, and speeding it up to my reading speed made his voice a bit grating on my ears. However, that feeling faded as I got into the story. And the story is great. It is very much Lord of the Flies, but the kids have powers and even the world around them has changed in inexplicable ways. Everyone age 15 or older has disappeared and the remaining kids have to figure out how to survive without adults, phones, or internet. Their powers grow stronger every day, making the fight for supremacy more and more dangerous. And on top of that, the de facto leaders of the two factions are nearing their 15th birthdays. They have discovered that kids disappear with the rest of the population on their 15th, so this impending doom makes things super tense. And the battling factions aren’t even the scariest part! Animals have gone bonkers and started evolving into sentient beings following the will of another being that the kids don’t even know exist.

If the ages of the main characters hasn’t clued you in, this is a YA series. I don’t spend a lot of time browsing the YA section of the bookstore, but I have found that I generally enjoy dystopian YA series.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. I found it to be overall well written with strong characters and interesting story development. Some details were predictable, but it didn’t detract from the whole. It ends in a way that left me wanting more. There’s so much going on, I haven’t even touched half of it in this review. I’ll definitely be continuing the series.

Monthly roundup – February 2023

When I look at these collages I make every month, count 11 boxes, and think I had a slow month, I feel a little silly. I read 11 books! Sure, some of them were short. Two were audiobooks. One was a collection of short stories. My page count probably isn’t very high. And ultimately the numbers don’t matter. I read 11 books and enjoyed them all. But there were several days when I didn’t read anything because my brain just didn’t want to brain. Depression. And that makes me feel like it was a slow month. Depression brain is weird.

The books I did manage to read were pretty great. My favorite was Bowery. It’s not a joyous story, there is no happy ending. But it made me feel things and that is the mark of a good story to me. When people ask me why I read so much extreme horror, the answer is simple. I want to feel things. I read bizarro for wonderment. I am always so amazed at the sheer absurdity that some of these authors I love come up with. And Matt Shaw just makes me laugh. One day I’ll do a full why I read the things I read post. Today is not that day.

On the agenda for March, I have a few ARCs from Planet Bizarro that I’m excited about. Hoping to finish Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig and read the next book in the Gone series. I also have a couple of collections of short stories that I’m itching to read. And of course whatever Book Lovers Cafe chooses for the group read. It’s looking like it’ll be a Grady Hendrix book, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for Jennifer Weiner. I know, that makes no sense when you look at the collage above. I do stray from horror and monster porn on occasion.

In other news, I am in the process of redesigning this blog. When I resurrected it about a year ago, I chose a free template and picked some colors I liked and didn’t really think much of it because I wasn’t sure of where I was going with this. Totally Normal Human is now Cool Ghouls Book Club. I feel like that’s more fitting of the content and of me as a person. I’ll still post random totally normal human things, like my old band appreciation posts or the compartments. It’s gonna take a minute to figure out how I want this place to look, but I’ll get there.

I read a book: Grot (Backyard Goblin Gods #3), by Roxy Collins

Grot, by Roxy Collins is the third installment of the Backyard Goblin Gods series. We got a hint of this book’s main characters in the previous volume that had me wondering about the woman with two suitors.

Jessica is different from our previous heroines in that she is one of the Chosen Ones from a first family. These are humans who keep the gobelin/human agreement alive by teaching their daughters about gobelins and Underhill and their destiny to offer themselves as potential mates to the gobelins when the crust opens. Jess isn’t really interested in that life and is convinced that she is the least desirable of her sisters, therefore doesn’t really have to worry about being chosen. She is hopeful that she can go through with the ceremony, not be chosen, and then go on with her life with her mother finally off her back. Instead, she finds herself being pursued by two gobelins who are determined to win her favor. And her life is made more chaotic with the disappearance of her sister. She needs to make sure her sister is safe and sound before she can even think about her predicament.

Grot, like all of the gobelins we’ve met so far, is complicated but amazing. He is the cinnamon roll monster romance hero I crave. He’s utterly dedicated to doing everything he can to help Jess find her sister and ultimately win her over. He knows she is his fated mate but he humors his brother’s challenge and competes in this mating quest. After all, there can be only one.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ This series just keeps getting better. I love the way we get more and more gobelin lore as the story progresses. Can’t wait to see who’s next. I love that we get more character detail. And I love that each couple shows a different perspective. This is my favorite book in the series yet.

Big thanks to Roxy Collins and Booksprout for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Grot, by Roxy Collins on Amazon for a couple bucks or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

I read a book: The Comfy-Cozy Nihilist, by Nathan D. Ludwig

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but let’s be real. We all do it. No one would care about bookstagram without beautiful images of eye-catching book covers. In my opinion, horror and bizarro books tend to have the coolest cover art. The cover art on this one is reminiscent of Happy Tree Friends and I just love it. The Comfy-Cozy Nihilist: A Handbook of Dark Fiction, by Nathan D. Ludwig is wild. It’s dark and hilarious. It fulfills my bizarro weirdness loving desires.

This collection starts off strong with a story called Fuck Fangsgiving. The reader follows a pair of siblings who go home for Thanksgiving under the impression that their family are vampires and have invited them home to feast on them rather than turn them. It’s violent, sad, and totally absurd. So good. I knew the general direction Welcome to the Show was headed, but what a twist. I freaking love a bizarre twist. Adding Worst Laid Plans to my watch list. Nearly every story leans toward dark comedy (which I love!). My favorite was probably the doppelganger clown story, For My Next Switch, I’ll Need a Volunteer. There’s just something about doppelgangers and clowns that I find super entertaining. Don’t be fooled by the cheerful looking cover (yes, I consider it cheerful even with the bear about to blow its brains out). These stories are dark and there’s lots of gore, but it’s got just the right amount of humor.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. The stories themselves are all great, but I think my favorite part of this collection is the author commentary after each one. I love that little peek into the creative process. I enjoyed the intro and outro chapters. It makes me feel like I’ve gotten to know the author in a more personal way. And while I didn’t care to try and figure out what authors of the classics were trying to say back in high school English class, I do enjoy being clued in via author commentary now. I suppose it’s different when you’re existing in the same webspace as the authors you’re reading.

Big thanks to Nathan D. Ludwig, GenreBlast Books, and BookSirens for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy The Comfy-Cozy Nihilist, by Nathan D. Ludwig on Amazon for a couple bucks.

I read a book: Bowery, by Matthew Vaughn

I ventured into the hucow world a while back when I was reading a bunch of fringe smut (coronavirus and clippy novellas, I’m looking at you) between the alien books. The Amazon algorithm decided in its vast wisdom that since I like reading about human abductees finding love with sweet aliens, maybe I would be interested in hucow. I read one short story and that was enough for me. I did not venture further into that subject. Rape and humiliation are not my bag.

However when I read the description for Matthew Vaughn’s Valentine’s Day release, Bowery, I knew this was right up my alley. You see in my mind, the idea of being enslaved and hooked up to a milking machine is terrifying. Horror. Bizarro even. Not erotica, the usual place you find hucow. I’m not here to kink shame. I read one, decided it’s not for me, and moved on with my life. If you’re into hucow kink though, you should probably pass on Bowery because this is gonna kill it for you.

Bowery starts with a heavily pregnant woman waking up in a strange place strapped to a table with a whole cut out for her belly to hang through. She is naked and on display. Some farmhands enter the room and her nightmare begins when she realizes this is really happening to her. She is in a facility full of other cows, as the farmers call her. They are kept pregnant so they can be milked, forced to walk on their hands and knees, are not allowed to say anything other than moo, and housed in stables. Their babies, which the farmers call calves, are taken from them at birth and they never see them again.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Matthew Vaughn is now on my must read list. This whole story is a mindfuck. I like Vaughn’s writing style. He paints a vivid picture and whether intentional or not, makes you think about how we treat actual cows in our ongoing demand for dairy. However I felt like there were some details missing that would have made this a 5 star novella. I kept wondering about Sandra’s partner, why this Bowery even exists, what about the bulls. They clearly can’t be used for breeding. I wondered about law enforcement, though an incompetent police force is a believable addition to the story. The ending was baffling, though I can really say much more without giving it away. That said, this is a great book and I look forward to reading more of Vaughn’s work.

You can buy Bowery, by Matthew Vaughn on Godless for a buck. Go on, do it.

I read a book: Grouch (Backyard Goblin Gods #2), by Roxy Collins

Grouch, by Roxy Collins is the second book in the Backyard Goblin Gods series. We met the two main characters, Drew and Grouch, in the first book. To be honest, I didn’t expect Drew to be the next one to make an offering but I was pleasantly surprised.

There is a lot to love about this book. I found Drew’s character to be far more fleshed out than Cassie’s was in the first book. The reader really gets to know Drew and understand her motives behind her offering to Underhill. Unlike Cassie, Drew knows what she is doing when she drops a gold ring into the crack in the crust. She understands the implication of her actions and does so with a plan. While she does seem to understand some of the gobelin tradition, she is not in it to find a mate. She has a lot of stuff to work through and the reader is along for the ride. And Grouch, despite his name, is delightful. His initial reaction upon meeting her is less than dignified, but he dials it back immediately and though he knows she is his fated mate, he respects her boundaries and follows her lead. He is also fighting his own demons and they find they have a lot of common ground.

I have noticed in other reviews that there is not a lot of love for Drew. People love a strong independent female lead until she proves that she truly is strong and independent. I actually really liked the fact that she didn’t fall all over Grouch right away. She was on a mission and was determined to see it through. She knew what she didn’t want (a relationship/mate) and didn’t really warm up to the idea until she’d nearly completed her mission.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Collins addresses a lot of the issues I had with the first book by creating stronger characters with solid arcs. The main characters grow to know and care about each other before the big frenzy, which is something that is often missing in a fated mate story. There are some loose ends (what happened to Drew’s aversion to sex?), but overall a satisfying story. I am looking forward to the third book, Grot, coming to Kindle Unlimited on February 19, 2023.

Big thanks to Roxy Collins and BookSirens for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Grouch, by Roxy Collins on Amazon for a couple bucks or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. It’s Valentine’s Day. Treat yo self.