I read a book: The Girl on the Glider, by Brian Keene

I am one of a handful of moderators for one of the larger book groups on Facebook, Book Lovers Cafe. While I do love the group (modmin team especially), it suffers the same problems many book groups do. The feed follows Booktok or random celebrity book club trends, which lately is a lot of Colleen Hoover, Fredrik Backman, and Where the Crawdads Sing. I have nothing against any of this, but I like to try to get people to read some of the stuff I like and have been running a book club for horror lovers like myself within the group. I call it the Cool Ghouls Book Club, and I tend to choose titles that I never see in the mainstream book groups.

The Girl in the Glider is the beginning of my way of introducing the group to Brian Keene and the beginning of my Splatterpunk Awards series. Granted, it is very different from much of Keene’s catalog (no zombies or monsters). It is a great example of his writing and storytelling skill though. As one of the co-founders of the Splatterpunk Awards, it felt appropriate to start with him.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. I loved this novella. I didn’t know what to expect, but it is so good. I know and love Brian Keene for his zombie stories. I’m generally not into ghosts for the same reasons Keene states when he’s trying to come to terms with what he’s experiencing in The Girl in the Glider. This was a very personal story. I feel like I got a demonstration of Keene’s thought process. It’s a weaving of truth and fiction. When the story ends, keep reading because the afterword is where he gets real with the reader and offers a powerful life lesson. Keene’s other books are great because he is a master at his craft. The Girl in the Glider is great because he’s sharing parts of himself without hiding behind fictional characters.

To be honest, I didn’t even know this novella existed until Keene offered it at a discount on what he’s calling his Reader Recession Relief program. He sells a different ebook at a discount every week and shares it on his Facebook page. The Girl on the Glider was Week 1. If you like his work and want to collect the ebooks, follow him on social media for the announcements.

Next up for the Cool Ghouls Book Club is J.F. Gonzalez’s Survivor, followed by a couple award winners and then the second co-founder, Wrath James White.

I read a book: Lil Bastard, by Matt Shaw

Just finished one of Matt Shaw’s many novellas. Lil Bastard is told from the perspective of a baby who remembers being being other people and is bitter and angry as fuck. He spends his days plotting to kill, but of course he is a baby so his options are limited. That doesn’t discourage him though. The story takes an unexpected turn, but comes full circle. I laughed out loud at several points. The baby talk translations cracked me up.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 read for me. This is not for everyone, but it is for me. If you like extreme horror and dark (really dark) humor, you’ll like this.

You can read lots of Matt Shaw’s work through your Kindle Unlimited subscription, or buy his books on Amazon.

I read a book: When the Dark Spoke to Me, by Christabelle Marbun

I went into this book completely unaware of the background of this author. She’s young. In fact, she is a well established child actor in Indonesia. And at 18 years old, this isn’t even her first published collection of poetry. Here I am pushing 40 struggling to keep up with my review schedule and this person has a couple books and over 100 movies under her belt. So says the blurb on her newest book’s Amazon page, though a quick google search does not confirm that claim. Still, even one movie and a pile of poetry is an accomplishment for anyone. Good for her!

When the Dark Spoke to Me begins with a trigger warning. This book contains themes of Death and suicidal ideation, reader discretion advised. As a person who often thinks about death and suicide, this was appreciated. Sometimes you just don’t want to deal with those themes and that’s okay.

Sometimes though, I’m feeling numb and want to feel something, so I read stuff that may break my heart. Sometimes I want that.

Unfortunately this is not what I was hoping. I read reviews that said it reads like it was written by someone wise behind their years, but I’m not seeing it. It reads very much like it was written by a teenager, because it was. Reading this reminded me of reading my old Livejournal posts. Cringe city. There’s a whole section addressed to Death, referring to Death as her first love that reminds me of being a teenager and exploring darker themes while learning to cope with depression.

There are also glimmers of…something. She is asking questions and writing her way to the answers she seeks. There’s one called The Gifted Kid Burnout that sets the stage for the rest of the collection. You can tell she is trying so hard not to burn out while processing her trauma at the same time.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. It’s not bad. I think younger readers in the same stage of their lives as the author would find this collection more relatable.

Big thanks to Christabelle Marbun, Andrews McMeel Publishing, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy When the Dark Spoke to Me, by Christabelle Marbun on Amazon in multiple formats beginning October 11.

I read a book: The Magpie Coffin, by Wile E. Young

The Magpie Coffin is an unrelenting tale of revenge, with precise brutality and extreme violence – the first in the Splatter Western series from Death’s Head Press.

My first experience with the splatter western genre was a book called Bloodletting, by J.R. Curtis. I thought it was great and decided that I needed more of the author and more splatter western in my life. It’s been a minute since I read that book though, and was finally able to pencil in another splatter western by making it one of the Cool Ghouls Book Club selections. My ever growing unending TBR sometimes demands that I do this to push some books to the top of that list. Cool Ghouls is currently doing a series of 2022 Splatterpunk Award winners. Enter The Magpie Coffin, by Wile. E. Young, winner of Best Novel in 2021.

As I often do, I judged this book by its cover. That amazing cover art helps set the stage for me. It gives off old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western vibes that only got stronger as I read. I imagined Salem Covington carrying himself like every old west Clint Eastwood character, with his outlaw hat tilted low, hiding his trademark snarl and stony gaze. When I was a kid, we had one television in the house and Dad’s beloved copy of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on 2 VHS tapes. I remember him putting it on fairly often, much to my siblings and my chagrin. Even now, old westerns are common background noise in my home. Of course now I love those old movies. And while it might be a weird thing to say about a splatter book, it was giving me all the feels. I was a kid again, watching Clint Eastwood take bloody vengeance on the people who’d tortured and killed his mentor. Covington uses a combination of black magic and his special Gun, which is capitalized to emphasize the fact that it’s not a regular gun. It speaks to him, reminds him of how many souls he owes, and encourages him to kill.

There are some things that I felt were lacking in explanation. Maybe I missed it. That happens. But I never really understood how Covington got into his deal in the first place. Who was the coffin maker? There were mentions of souls owed. But to who? Why? How? We know that he is unkillable by all guns except the one he carries and the one that used to belong to his brother. He learned the way of the People from his shaman teacher, Dead Bear, and there are mentions of how he perverted the teachings to suit him. He picked up other black magic from other teachers. There are questions, but the story flows and wraps up in a way that doesn’t require answers. I’m left wanting more. It has all of the fast sharp brutality I love in a good spatter novel with an old western flair.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read for me. I want more Wile E. Young. I want more splatter western. This was a great start for Death’s Head Press‘s Splatter Western series and I will be reading more of them.

You can get The Magpie Coffin, by Wile E. Young on Amazon, Godless, or directly from Death’s Head Press.

I read a book: Little Astronaut, by J. Hope Stein

I have had this ARC for longer than I care to admit. I’d read a couple disappointing books of poetry and decided to put this one aside a while. Now that I’m reading it, I wish I had dug in sooner.

This is a collection of poetry about the experience of being a new mother. Generally I don’t like to read motherhood themed books because of my own complicated feelings and experiences. In a lot of ways, this is a collection of more of the same old thing. New mom doesn’t get enough sleep. Motherhood becomes identity. Partner has different expectations of parenthood. Strangers bombard you with unsolicited advice. Breastfeeding.

The space theme gives it a fresh feel. There are space metaphors sprinkled throughout that sort of tie the whole thing together. Yes, it’s a new mom venting about the usual new mom experiences. Some of the poems blend together, a result of their sameness. There is some repetition, but it flows from one space metaphor to another on the inertia from the strong prologue and titular poem.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. A more sentimental person would probably rate it higher, but like I said, I have complicated feelings on the subject matter. This was a good read though.

Big thanks to J. Hope Stein, Andrews McMeel Publishing, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Little Astronaut on Amazon and read it beginning on September 20, 2022. And according to the author’s website, there’s a little something extra in it for you if you pre-order! I love when authors do things like that.

I read a book: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I put off reading The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins for a long time. It was published long after my YA days and was often mentioned adjacent to the hype of other popular YA series of the time that I was completely uninterested in for various reasons. My kid was never interested in it, so I didn’t have it on our shelves. There are some from that era that I loved (Divergent, The Giver), some that I will get to eventually (The Maze Runner, everything Rick Riordan has ever written), and others yet that I will never read (Harry Potter). If you’re sensing a pattern here, it’s because there is one. I like bleak dystopian stories and demigods and I don’t care about child wizards written by turds.

My knowledge of The Hunger Games was limited to what I’d gleaned from memes and Jennifer Lawrence’s appearances on late night comedy interview shows. I never read a synopsis and never saw the movies (not even clips!). I picked this up on a whim while browsing Kindle Unlimited. And because I enjoy listening to the audiobook while I read along, I checked it out from the library on Libby. Reading can be an expensive hobby if you buy every book you read. I read so much and am eternally grateful for the existence of libraries, not only because I have the joy of working at a great one, but because I don’t have to buy as many books as I read.

So, the games. This story takes place in a place called Panem, which is a post apocalyptic North America. There’s a huge gap between the haves and the have nots. Katniss and her family have not, and she spends her days illegally hunting game in the woods outside her district and then hustling to sell what her family doesn’t need. The game itself is a fight to the death. The contestants are children, whose names are basically drawn from a hat. Scrawny little 10 year olds are pitted against brawny teenagers. All these kids are thrown into an arena that looks like a forest that the game masters have complete control over, given minimal opportunities to acquire survival supplies, and everyone else must watch these kids kill each other off until one remains. If they aren’t killing each other fast enough, the game masters will trigger things like forest fires or torrential rains. It’s like a weird reality show and the prize is survival and PTSD. And what is the point of the game? Why do they have to go through this year after year? It is never really spun in a positive light, as the story is told by Katniss. The games exist to remind people of how good(?) they have it after the remaining population was districted off. Remember how we used to fight for our own survival by reliving it year after year. But the people are smarter than that and understand that the games are a means of control.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. I thought this book was great. While the premise is about the deaths of many children fighting each other for survival, I didn’t feel like it was overly violent or gory, and the reactions of our heroine were realistic. I felt like a spectator rooting for my district representative to win. The ending is the beginning of a whole new trial for Katniss. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that considering that there are two more books in the series. And I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

You can borrow The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins from Kindle Unlimited, your local library, or buy it at any major bookseller.

I read a book: Or Else, by Joe Hart

There was a lot that I liked about this book. Every time the main character thought he had figured it out, new info would pop up and he’d be back where he started. And then when the case was considered solved, the reader gets a glimpse at what really happened. But is that what really happened? Or just Andy’s writer brain writing up a more interesting ending? Either way, I find both endings satisfying enough.

I also enjoyed the idea of a mystery book author who lives out a real life mystery and makes all the mistakes he’d never write into his books. There were so many times I found myself saying “Oh, Andy…no….” and the like. Which. Is fun.

That last line cracked me up. Andy doesn’t know when to quit.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars for me. This was an Amazon First Reads choice recently. If you picked it up because it was free, maybe read it? It’s short and fast paced and pretty good.

I read a book: The Pet Project, by Amanda Milo

Really cool concept.

The titular Pet Project is an alien species’ attempt at domesticating abducted humans. They call the human pets “tenders” because of their tender skin. The story is told from a Cryptop scientist’s point of view.

There are some things that make it difficult to suspend disbelief enough to make the story make sense. The Cryptops are working under the assumption that the tenders are not sentient and describe them in the way one might describe a dog. The longer the scientist works with his little herd, the more he notices that they seem to have languages and that not all tenders speak the same language. He also notices that they seem to understand him in a way that seems to be more than just reading his body language. They respond to him, sometimes verbally and other times just by doing what he says. What I don’t understand is how these aliens came to Earth and saw everything the tenders had built and how they lived and thought they were not sentient, that they were not people. The scientist seems to ignore how they understand him and each other. I guess acknowledging that they are people would put the breeding program at risk, because at that point they are not pets. They are slaves. Which, from the reader’s perspective, they absolutely are slaves.

Props to the author for writing a story about a human breeding project that doesn’t involve any aliens sexually abusing the human pets. (Not entirely true if you take into account the forced breeding between an unwilling pair, but at least the alien isn’t using them as living fleshlights.) The scientist actually cares about his tenders enough to (eventually) choose their own partners. There are some dark scenes that lead up to that.

When I read what I just wrote, it seems like I hated this book. But I didn’t. I actually liked it quite a bit and will read the rest of the series. I almost wish it was more fleshed out, novella length rather than a short story, because there are details and world/character building missing that left me wanting.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. That’s a lot of words for “I liked it and want more, but I’m conflicted.”

You can find The Pet Project, by Amanda Milo on Amazon available as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription, buy it for 99c, or grab the audiobook.

I read a book: Hidden Pictures, by Jason Rekulak

Hidden Pictures, by Jason Rekulak is wildly popular in the book groups on Facebook right now. The waitlist in Libby was super long. Months. I wasn’t sure I’d get to borrow before the Cool Ghouls Book Club group read was over, but the library came through and here we are.

I’m not sure what I expected going into this, but it’s not what I got. It’s was really good, but usually the books I see hyped in Books of Horror are significantly more horrifying. This felt like horror-lite, horror for people who don’t necessarily want to be scared. Which is fine. I enjoyed the book, it just wasn’t what I expected.

This is the story of a recovering addict named Mallory who takes a job as babysitter to a young boy in an affluent neighborhood. She loves everything about the job, the little boy, the parents, her cottage in their back yard. Everything about this job is perfect, up until the little boy’s drawings take a dark turn. He goes from drawing happy images of the family and animals to darker things like a man in a forest dragging a woman behind him and dropping her in a hole in the ground. Not only does the subject of the drawings change, the skill level changes drastically as well. He was drawing stick figures and clouds with smiley faces and suddenly is drawing realistic fully shaded things that make Mallory suspect that something is amiss. She learns of the story of a woman who was murdered in the very cottage she is staying in and naturally assumes the place haunted or the boy is possessed. Mallory thinks she’s figured it out and goes on a quest to find proof to present to the parents, accompanied by her new friend, the gardener. The pair does find the information they were looking for, but it is not the solution they’d hoped for.

There are some things that I felt didn’t really add anything to the story, namely most of the things the neighbor lady says. She rants about liberal parents, rapist Mexicans, atheist know-it-alls, etc. all in her first conversation with Mallory. Is this meant to establish that she’s a bit of a kook like the Maxwells say? Is this the author inserting his own narrative under the guise of character building? Who knows. There’s also the juxtaposition of the main character’s religious beliefs and the Maxwells’ atheism. They are very quick to dismiss Mallory’s concerns and have her convinced that she’s losing it, despite things we learn about them toward the end of the book.

The plot is fairly predictable, even with the twists. But don’t let that dissuade you from reading this book. Even my paragraph of gripes isn’t a huge part of the story. As a know-it-all atheist liberal parent of rapist Mexican descent, I can safely say that while none of that adds much to the story, it doesn’t really detract from it either. I’ve seen some reviews say that certain parts were just not believable, like the one twist about the little boy. How would a babysitter not know, they say. To that, I say that this is a ghost story. Horror. Remember all those old horror movies where you see the teenage girl go outside in her underwear to investigate a scary sound and you’re screaming at the television for her to quit being an idiot? This called suspension of disbelief and is present in nearly every work of fiction, even moreso in horror with supernatural elements. Shit’s not gonna make sense in the real world and that’s okay. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Certainly not the scariest book, but it’s well written and engaging and has enough of a twist to not be completely predictable. I would recommend it to people looking to dip their toes into horror but not get too wet. And if you read a lot of darker books, this is a nice palate cleanser.

You can find Hidden Pictures, by Jason Rekulak at all major retailers and many libraries (though you might have to wait a bit).

I read a book: The Lady and the Orc (Orc Sworn #1), by Finley Fenn

100% picked up this book because I’ve seen Ruby Dixon mention liking the author. This book did not disappoint.

That said, if you are also reading this on the recommendation of the aforementioned author, don’t go into this thinking it will be anything like her work. The orcs of Fenn’s world are not the doting himbos of Dixon’s world. Their happily ever afters are hard earned and require work, compromise, and understanding on both parts to continue into the ever after. While there is a mating bond that makes them want each other, there is no magic that makes them love each other. They have to work at it. They make mistakes. In this book, our hero lies and withholds information, and eventually puts his needs ahead of hers and betrays her. But he is learning and so is she. There is so much to say about that, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. There were parts that legit had me crying because I was feeling the characters’ emotions. I am not a cryer.

My main gripe with this book was the use of the word “orc-prick” and emphasis on his seed. Seed pouring from him before the act, seed flooding out afterward, drinking his seed to make the baby strong. I’ll chalk that up to being #justorcthings.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This was really good. I’m looking forward to finding out what the rest of the series has to offer.

You can find The Lady and the Orc, by Finley Fenn on Amazon as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription or for sale in various formats.