Monthly roundup – April 2023

April reads. Lots of bizarro, horror, Chainsaw Man, and a couple memoirs. Overall a good month of reading. Thoroughly enjoyed them all. As usual, books with full reviews will be linked, but all have at least a brief review on my Goodreads page. That said, there were some standouts. Her Orc Protector was so good. Loved the characters. You Sound Like a White Girl had me thinking about my life and identity as a mixed race woman. I won’t be writing a full review on that one because that is a whole conversation that I think a lot of people aren’t ready to have and a book review can’t do it justice. Stay tuned for some discussion though. Check out my full breakdown.

Her Orc Protector, by Zoe Ashwood
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Novelization, by Jeff Strand
Chainsaw Man, Vol. 11: Go Get ‘Em, Chainsaw Man, by Tatsuki Fujimoto
If You Died Tomorrow I Would Eat Your Corpse, by Wrath James White
You Sound Like a White Girl, by Julissa Arce

Russells in Time, by Kevin Shamel
Stillborn Gallery, by Axl Barnes
They Take Your Skin, by J.R. Curtis
Her Orc Mate, by Zoe Ashwood
Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
Chainsaw Man Vols 5-10, by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Unrated due to pending review:
Am I a Monster, by J. Boote
Fight Tub, by William Pauley III
The Ballad of Old Joe Booth, by William Pauley III
Bound in Flesh: An Anthology of Trans Body Horror, by Lor Gislason
The Best of Bizarro Fiction: Vol. 2, by Planet Bizarro

Three of those pending reviews are ARCs, so they absolutely will get full reviews by the end of the week. They’re almost finished. I have a few others that are being published this month that I will get to soon as well. I will come back and edit in some links and put them in their proper spot on the ratings list once they’re ready, but I don’t want to tease with stars right now.

I finished up as much Chainsaw Man as I could find via Libby. I think there is a 12th volume, but it is not available to me just yet. I will say that I enjoyed the series much more than I expected. I would rate the series 4/5 overall, with the last volume I read being the strongest. My kid has already handed me a new stack of books to read, Vols 1-4 of Sailor Moon. She loves it when I share in her interests and I’m happy to oblige. So next in my exploration of manga is Sailor Moon.

I’m still dreaming of zombies, so I will get my fix ASAP. I had an author reach out to me via contact form and it just so happens that he writes zombies, so I’ll check that out. I do read every message and spend some time looking up books, but I rarely respond because the books I’m being pitched are not stuff I would pick up organically. I’m not big on fantasy and I’m picky about my romance/smut. And anything with a religious slant is not for me. I make a point to not pick up books that I know are not my thing because I want to be fair and honest in my reviews. But if you offer me zombies…well, who can resist zombies?

I’ve also started making some progress on the BoH Indie Brawl reading list. I’d already read 4 out of 32. Today I read another and tomorrow I’ll start on another. In an effort to motivate myself, I’ve resurrected the Cool Ghouls Book Club in Book Lovers Cafe. My horror selections don’t get a lot of attention because it’s not a horror oriented group, but every once in a while someone lets their freak flag fly and joins me for a buddy read. Maybe I’ll catch a few more over the next several months.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to share my stuff all over the internet. So yeah. Read some books and let’s talk about them.

I read a book: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Novelization, by Jeff Strand

While I mostly write about books, my love of horror began with old movies and branched off into comedy horror shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters. The more ridiculous the premise, the better. Enter Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It’s been forever and a half since I last watched the movie, but I do remember that ridiculous is an understatement. The fact that it inspired multiple sequels, a children’s cartoon, two video games, a comic book, a couple of similarly themed books, and now this novelization written by Jeff Strand and audiobook narrated by Joe Hempel is actually pretty amazing considering the poor reception of the movie in its time.

Let’s talk about the audiobook. Joe Hempel is a treasure. Like the movie, the audiobook is speckled with songs and faux advertisements and that one awful puberty song. Hempel narrates with gusto and paired with Jeff Strand’s humor, this audiobook is a joy to listen to.

As for the book itself, if you’ve seen the movie, you know the story. Humanity comes under attack by constantly mutating killer tomatoes. Everyone is an idiot and there’s little hope that humanity will figure out how to survive, except for maybe China and their secret weapon, Bruce Lee. It is ridiculous and hilarious. I know it’s cliche to say the book is better than the movie, especially when the book is a novelization of that movie, but it’s true. Characters that didn’t get much screen time, like master of disguise Sam Smith, come to life in this book. Jokes that barely registered in the movie are amplified. Imagery that were probably cost prohibitive to produce in a movie are elevated by Strand’s colorful writing.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This book is 233 pages or 5 hours of pure fun. This book filled in a lot of gaps that the movie left wide open. I particularly enjoyed all the fourth wall breaking commentary. The whole thing was just so funny.

Big thanks to Jeff Strand, Joe Hempel, Encyclopocalypse Publications and BookSirens for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can preorder Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Novelization on Amazon or Audible for its April 14, 2023 release.

I read a book: They Take Your Skin, by J.R. Curtis

I’ve read two other books by J.R. Curtis. I don’t remember much about Satanico. Bloodletting was pretty good and introduced me to a subgenre of horror that I didn’t know I needed in my life, horror westerns. And now I’ve read They Take Your Skin. I have owned the kindle version for a while, but when the author offered Audible codes in exchange for honest reviews, I moved it up to the top of my TBR.

Before I get into my thoughts about the book, let’s talk about the Audible narration. Curtis tends to take his time setting up his stories. He is meticulous with his world building and while it can feel slow, it pays off when everything falls into place and all the action happens and you find yourself sucked into that world. Some narrators, like the man who narrated Bloodletting (John Gladden), are well suited to this descriptive style of storytelling. It’s a style that is difficult to get right, and unfortunately the narration of They Take Your Skin fell short for me. Sherry L. Neiman is a narrator I haven’t come across before, and while I did listen to the entire audiobook, I had to speed it up considerably to make it palatable. Her reading is painfully slow, lacking rhythm, and there were some pronunciation issues, particularly her pronunciation of one of the main character’s names (Guzman). I don’t expect perfect pronunciation of Spanish language names, but putting emphasis on the correct syllable goes a long way to looking like you made the effort.

That said, They Take Your Skin is the best J.R. Curtis book I’ve read yet. He recently released a new one that I haven’t read yet, but right now, this is my favorite thing he’s written. Since the big bads in this book are aliens, I’d classify this one as a sci-fi horror. This story takes place in a small mining town and follows the usual small town cast of characters. There’s the sheriff who is a little too big for his britches and the deputy who follows him blindly. There’s the troubled teen with the alcoholic father and the teacher who tries to reach him. There’s the old man who isn’t taken seriously until it’s too late. There’s the visitors who become instrumental in defeating the town’s dark secret. And of course, there’s the dark secret. In this case, the town isn’t hiding anything as they are unaware of what is lurking deep underground, and I feel like that makes this story unique. The descriptions of the aliens peeling the skins off their victims and then wearing those skins are visceral enough to make a person flinch but not in a gratuitous way. One character calls them peelers and the name catches on. There’s an old horror movie vibe (think Invasion of the Body Snatchers) about this book that I find really appealing.

Get it? A-PEELing? I crack myself up.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. If I have one complaint, it’s that it can be a bit wordy. Verbosity can become tedious if you’re not careful. It’s one of the reasons I just can’t get into Stephen King. Other than that I really enjoyed this book. I think it would make a great movie. Not sure I’d listen to this narrator again, but I will read more Curtis.

Big thanks to J. R. Curtis for providing an audio ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy They Take Your Skin, by J. R. Curtis on Amazon for a couple bucks or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Monthly roundup – March 2023

March reads. Cthulhu Fishing, Troll, Orchard of Skeletons, and The Cursed Among Us were all great. All Fall Down was mildly disappointing, but not bad really. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary was adorable and hilarious. Good month overall. Check out my full breakdown. Books with full reviews will be linked, but all have at least a brief review on my Goodreads page. I started doing that when some asshole in a book group asked me how I can possibly retain the many, many books I read. I don’t need strangers to question my cognitive abilities, I do that enough myself thank you very much. Anyway. Let’s talk about these books.

Troll, by Matthew A. Clarke
Orchard of Skeletons, by Eli Wilde
Cthulhu Fishing Off the Iraq Nebula, by Chris Meekings
Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, by Junji Ito

The Cursed Among Us, by John Durgin
Chainsaw Man Vol 1-4, by Tatsuki Fujimoto
R’jaal’s Resonance, by Ruby Dixon

All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner

I want to reiterate the fact that I don’t consider ⭐️⭐️⭐️ a bad rating. I would definitely recommend a three star book to someone I think would enjoy it more than I did. Jennifer Weiner is a talented writer whose work I usually love, but this one just didn’t hit the mark for me. Maybe the subject matter is too close to home and it didn’t illicit the feelings I expected.

I don’t read a lot of manga. It’s never been my genre/format of choice, but I have dipped in on occasion at the recommendations of my teenager. Chainsaw Man is one of those recommendations. It started out as a goofy story about a teenager (who happens to be inhabited by a chainsaw devil) on a quest to cop a feel. It went on like that for a couple of volumes. The plot was barely there. There was plenty of killing and humor, but the plot wavered. Then toward the end of volume 3, the inklings of a story began and really started to come to fruition in volume 4. I was on the fence about whether I would continue or not, but now I definitely will and have already checked out volumes 5 and 6 on Libby. It’s too bad my kid doesn’t like reading digital format. Manga really eats a hole in my wallet!

Speaking of which…Junji Ito. I could read those on my tablet as well, but those are more my wheelhouse and I do want to own them. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary tickled my funny bone. It was adorable and had little hints of the Junji Ito horror that I know and love. I am happy to have this one on my shelf.

Last but not least, R’jaal’s Resonance, the first volume of Ruby Dixon’s new blue alien series. I liked it quite a bit. It is delightfully spicy. I felt like some of it was a little rushed, but I still feel it’s a good start of a new series. I’m looking forward to meeting all the new people and learning about the ancestors, who are not actually ancestors as they are still alive.

So what’s next for me? I feel the call of zombies niggling at my brain. I am itching to get into another multi volume series and actually just bought the entire Undead Possession series by Justin Boote. I freaking loved the first one and I am ready to dive back in. I have a couple of ARCs to get to first though. And I want to finish reading Stillborn Gallery because I’ve had that one started for a long time. I just get lost in short story collections, even the really good ones. It’s too easy to read a story from one book and then another from another book and then you have a bunch of started short story collections.

Other than books and reviews, I’ve picked up my neglected crochet hook and gotten into that again. I’m working on a blanket, despite living in the year round inferno that is Texas. And because I can’t get away from book stuff, I’ve started making bookmarks. The first one I completed was a dusty rose colored cat with a gold collar. My kid said it looks like a penis and I can’t stop seeing that now. I am eager to give away a few cat/penis bookmarks to my friends and coworkers.

Anyway, read some of these books. Or any books really. Go read something and let’s talk about it.

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: 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.

Monthly roundup – January 2023

My January reads. Nearly all were great and I’ve added a few more authors to my unending tbr. Just bury me with my kindle.

It would be easier to tell you which ones weren’t my favorites. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck was a reread for book club. It’s not bad, but it’s super repetitive and could probably have been a blog post. I still consider it the best self help book I’ve ever read. I’m Still a 10-year-old Boy and Spare are good for what they are, memoirs. I don’t like to be too harsh on memoirs because it feels like I’m judging their lives and I really don’t want to do that. Nancy Cartwright’s book is carried by her colorful narration. This is great for Simpsons fans or anyone who is interested in voice acting. Prince Harry’s book is about what I expected. In a lot of ways, he’s still that sad little boy trying to make his way through life as a Royal after losing his biggest ally, his mother. White Noise was a chore to get through, but still not terrible.

Here are some links to my full reviews for the month. All ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Incel, by Matt Duchossoy
Like a Tramp Yelling at Trains, by Peter Caffrey
They Are All Monsters, by J. Boote
Strangled Epitaphs, by Axl Barnes
Peculiar Monstrosities, A Planet Bizarro Publication
Songs About My Father’s Crotch, by Dustin Reade
Goddamn Electric Nights, by William Pauley III

I’ve got quite a few ARCs lined up for February. Lots of horror, bizarro, and monster porn. My favorites.

I read a book: Like a Tramp Yelling at Trains, by Peter Caffrey

This is my first Peter Caffrey book. According to the man himself, he is “not a poet, which is why this collection is free. A few of you might find something which amuses, and others won’t. If you’re in the latter group, remember, it’s fucking free.” This collection is full of humor, darkness, and heart. Caffrey says he is not a poet but he totally is.

Some highlights from a handful of the poems:
One Small Step – well that took an interesting turn. Probably shouldn’t have laughed, but I did.
Honeycomb – that last stanza…oof. Relatable.
Untitled – a bit rhymey, but a satisfying little vignette
The Light Side – that giggle at the end, love it
Shared Guilt – wherever you are, I am also
Despite All This – eat your hearts out, Hallmark
All Hallows – ok this one cracked me up
Happy Not Happy – utopia
Dead Exciting – titillating
The Poet – perfect way to close this collection

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I picked up Like a Tramp Yelling at Trains, by Peter Caffrey for free on Godless. To my delight, this book of poetry was not only free but included an audiobook narrated by the author and it is so great. I kind of want him to narrate my life now. You should read this. Hell, Caffrey will read it to you.