Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror

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Southern gothic horror is uniquely (under-appreciated!) American literature, and too often written by white men. Imagine my surprise when stumbling across Eden Royce’s self-published anthology collection on GoodReads. A  black horror author with roots in Hoodoo/Conjure. Yasssss. I downloaded her book without hesitation and read it while listening to my old delta blues records. The proper way to enjoy a southern gothic is on a porch swing while the sweet, idle songs from grasshoppers rise up from the brush. Unfortunately, congested, downtown Chicago makes that impossible. So listening to Skip James was the next best thang, y’all. I’m also a little homesick and I miss my Gulf side of Texas. Reading “Spook Lights” was the perfect escapism for this reluctant city gal.

Connect with the author on

@edenroyce on Twitter  or her website, edenroyce.com, or blog

Or better, just buy her book on Amazon  or Lulu

There are 12 short stories in all, but my three favorites were “Doc Buzzard’s Coffin,” “Hag Ride,” and “The Choking Kind.” Royce’s melodic writing is full of texture, atmosphere, and characters that invoke the South. I felt the swelter and stale, human sweat rise through each word. Descriptive language meets Black folklore to create a leisurely atmosphere. Think ghost stories told around the campfire. Think of the fairytales your grandmother read to you when you were a child. Reading Spook Lights is more of an experience best enjoyed when not rushed. The horror element is subtle, often ironic, and I found myself able to predict most of the stories’ conclusions, however, the author’s charm and folksy delivery kept me squirming in my seat until the end of them. Most of the short stories are cautionary tales, where the main character often does something stupid, only to be punished or chastised by a vengeful spirit or magical spell later. There’s Hoodoo, Voodoo, murders driven by passion, and quests for revenge.

There’s also strong thread of female (often motherly) wisdom and jilted love in this collection. I appreciated the strong female protagonists of color. The women were often victims of their own making, but learned along the way how to find themselves. You don’t have to be from the south, Black, or a woman to understand the overall concept of this book, which I love. The author does a lovely job blending mythology for contemporary tastes. This is a book to kick back with and savor, bit by bit. It’s down-to-earth, like crackling bacon grease in a hot pan or like cold, tap water from the kitchen sink. Let the stories do the heavy lifting for you–Royce’s subtlety is masterful.

I enjoyed Spook Lights for its storytelling, not necessarily for innovation, horror, or plots. That said, I’m giving this anthology collection a solid 5/5. I heartily recommend Spook Lights to those looking for an enjoyable read rich with Southern atmosphere and non-traditional folktales told from Native American, Black, and a Caribbean perspective. Eden Royce’s ability to entertain is a dream. I will be reading more of her work.

 

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Billy and the Cloneasaurus

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Steve Kozeniewski, Published by Severed Press (2014)

Published by Severed Press (2014)

Buy the book HERE and connect with the author

Amazon – http://amazon.com/author/kozeniewski
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/KozAuthor
Twitter – https://twitter.com/outfortune
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7183355.Stephen_Kozeniewski
Blog – http://manuscriptsburn.blogspot.com
Mailing List – http://kozauthor.campayn.com/contact_list_form/signup/10334

The Damsels love when authors submit their books for us to review, especially when it’s well-written speculative fiction. Stephen Kozeniewski’s “Billy and the Cloneasaurus” is biting, thoughtful dystopian fiction from Severed Press. Clones, dinosaurs, and a corrupted “Williamerica” paint a frightening alternate reality where the idea of individuality and capitalism are distorted to the nth degree. It’s a call-to-arms, if you will, and a well-timed one at that. Critics of dystopian fiction always bemoan the genre’s inherent “preachiness” and bitch far too much about the potential for pretentiousness on the authors’ part. Be assured, dear readers, that “Billy and the Clonesaurus” doesn’t fall prey to preachiness or pretentiousness. I would happily say so if it did. Mean-spirited zingers are fun to write but funnier to read. And I do try to please.

The novel’s satirical undertone is entertaining and relevant. HOWEVER (and there must be a capitalized however in any review, right?) given the author’s unsubtle disdain for clichés, I couldn’t help but be irritated by his approach to one of the minor (but which should have been major) characters, which is, perhaps, the novel’s biggest flaw.

SYNOPSIS

Six billion identical clones make up the entire population of Earth, and William 790-6 (57th Iteration) is exactly like everybody else. In his one year of life he will toil in suburban mediocrity and spend as much cash as possible in order to please his corporate masters. When 790’s first birthday (and scheduled execution) finally rolls around, a freak accident spares his life.

Living past his expiration date changes 790 profoundly. Unlike other clones he becomes capable of questioning the futility of his own existence. Seeking answers in the wilderness, he discovers a windmill with some very strange occupants, including a freakish, dinosaur-like monstrosity. Which is especially strange since every animal on earth is supposed to be extinct…

Without giving away spoilers, one of the “occupants” in the mysterious windmill happens to be a woman. And like most dystopian stories (written by men) women are treated as an afterthought to the Grand Political Message or as mere accessories to the Crippling Male Angst that drives the subversive action to its conclusion. Willa suffers from the same fate, unfortunately, which knocked the five-star rating I had going in down to a four.

It seems Willa’s only function is to literally have sex with the male hero. Odd. Because she would be in a better position than any of the other Williams to Save The World (or at least play SOME part in it) due to her radical upbringing and fondness for politics. But no. Willa is just the well-read virgin who waits in her room while her father and Billy make all the important decisions. I’m ignoring the weird incest/clone, uncomfortable age difference here for propriety.

The ending wasn’t surprising or satisfying, but happily-ever-afters and dystopian horror don’t play well together. This book entertained and I would recommend it to lovers of bizarro and speculative fiction. Four stars out of five for “Billy and the Cloneasaurus.”

Death Ray Potato Bake

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Death Ray Potato Bake by Teresa Hawk (image source: https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1408548104l/23002800.jpg)

I only know (knew?) Teresa Hawk from Twitter. She used to tweet all the time but I haven’t seen her around in months. I would provide her handle but her account is no longer active. For shame. Her tweets were hilarious. Anyway.

I happened to receive “Death Ray Potato Bake” for free on Amazon Kindle months ago but forgot about the thing until I saw it in my library today. It was St. Patrick’s Day–Irish people and potatoes are stereotyped together, so what the hell, I thought. Might as well be festive. And I read it.

So many authors try (and miss the mark) to be both funny and suspenseful, but Teresa Hark succeeds on both counts. What an entertaining read! Who doesn’t fantasize about killing their mother? With a potato?

Bizarre, smartly-written, and creative. I would recommend this little short for people who take a dash of dark comedy with their horror. Her writing style is dry, mocking, and effortlessly funny without calling attention to itself. I smiled the whole way through. Solid five stars. I know Teresa Hawk has written other short stories and so I will be definitely read more as soon as I am able.

Check out her books Goodreads.

Happy reading!

60 Black Women in Horror Writing

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Sixty Black Women in Horror Writing compiled by Sumiko Saulson

February is my favorite month to discover new authors. It is both Black History Month and Women In Horror Month (WiHM). Woohoo, double win! Sumiko Saulson’s unique compilation, 60 Black Women In Horror Writing is celebrates both holidays in grand style.

Some of the women profiled in this book are literary geniuses you’ve read before (Octavia E. Butler, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison) but Saulson also introduces us to talented women we’ve never never heard of, too. This book is comprised of interviews, essays, and short stories from the author, herself, and Crystal Connor and Eden Royce. Of the short stories I liked Crystal Connor’s “Amber’s New Friend” the best. I’m a sucker for southern gothic ghost stories, however all of the stories presented are worth a read.

Who Fears Death written by Nnedi Okorafor

 

All 60 women profiled at the beginning of the book are intriguing but I enjoyed Saulson’s seven author interviews most. I’m looking forward to reading Nnedi Okorafor’s “Who Fears Death.” No doubt influenced by two Nigerian (Igbo) parents, Okorafor’s novel combines magical realism and traditional African storytelling with a speculative, post apocalyptic edge. The main character is a shaman, Onyesonwu, whose name means “who fears death” in English. I adore speculative fiction of all stripes, but I especially go weak for marginalized narratives set outside of the West. Women of color are a rare sight in horror and by god we need to see more of them on the shelves! I say that as a woman of color who writes horror and as an unabashed lover of the genre. Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are great but there are other incredible horror sf/f authors out there, too. Let’s uplift them.

I know what cool books I’ll be adding to my To-Be-Read list this year. 60 Black Women in Horror is a welcome addition to any to-be-read list, don’t you think? Tell your friends, share, and please support these horror authors.

Women in horror unite!

 

This Way Darkness (anthology review)

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Supernatural creeps and bizarre creatures lurk behind the pages in “This Way Darkness” written by indie horror author, Latashia Figueroa. I was hunting for a well-rounded horror anthology to read this summer–y’know something spooky, well-written but short. Like waiting-for-your-pedicure-to-dry short. (Doesn’t everybody read axe murderer stories at the salon? No? Just me? ‘Kay) These three spine-tingling stories were just the little perk I needed.

Wrapped in Small Flesh and Bone | Figueroa opens the anthology with a tale reminiscent of The Omen; a familiar and predictable storyline, however entertaining. Unable to conceive, a desperate husband and his wife visit a mysterious witch. The husband realizes their mistake when the witch refuses to touch his crucifix necklace. Predictably, the wife becomes pregnant a short time after meeting the witch and then their child, Jenny, is born. Jenny is a lot like Damien. She talks to “imaginary friends” and always seems to be near or at the scene of a crime. I won’t spoil the ending. Ha, if you’re familiar with The Omen I don’t have to. Although I knew how the story would end, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I think creepy kids are adorable.

The Alternative | The second story has more gore and violence. I thought the rape scene was the predominant horror element…but no. Hell no. This story took a direction I didn’t expect at all! If there’s such a thing as a fate worse than rape, Figueroa presents it here. There’s a religious thread throughout all of her stories, but this one was the most interesting and dare I say philosophical? “The Alternative” explores the Christian perspective of death and the afterlife. Traumatized by the death of her mother, the main character develops an intense fear of old age and dying. She does not think death is her ticket to salvation and so she turns her back on God. Literally. The plot rambles in places. Not my favorite in the collection but I’d say it was worth the read.

The Retreat | Everyone is familiar with the secret cult trope, right? Well here it is again. Like all of the stories in this anthology, the plot is very straightforward. A dude goes off on a religious retreat for self-empowerment only to be tortured and terrorized by his fellow campers. Their camp leader convinces his flock that everyone is their own god and therefore are above human laws. First the campers kill a deer. Then a priest. There’s even a homicidal vegetarian who goes apeshit. What an entertaining romp! I knew where the story would go, but I enjoyed the author’s route.

All in all I’d give this anthology a solid 4/5 stars. No, the book wasn’t inventive…and yes, it relied heavily on well-worn horror tropes. But still I found the anthology to be funny in some places and easy to read. I would recommend this delightful anthology for horror lovers who are looking for a light summer snack. It’ll fly by quickly–but you won’t be bored while reading it!

You should be reading Sumiko Saulson

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Every now and then I stumble across an indie author who writes such an incredible (and underrated) book, I have to shout their name from the rooftops. I present Sumiko Saulson and her bizarre horror anthology, “Things That Go Bump In My Head.” I took a chance on this anthology after reading positive reviews on Goodreads, and after reading the first short story, I knew this was one of those rare books that deserved the hype.

“Things That Go Bump In My Head” is an unusual horror anthology–it’s not quite literary fiction, not quite science-fiction, not quite fantasy, not quite horror…it’s a mishmash of all these genres. The author steered clear from conventional  slashers, and created a new kind of horror story. In that way, the anthology’s undefinable “weirdness” lends itself well to speculative fiction.  I don’t like the term, quiet horror, since there was nothing at all “quiet” about the morality lessons in her tales.

A Life Of Her Own | The anthology opens with a heartbreaking story about a 15yr old girl who is wooed by a smooth talking thief on a bus. Smitten by the encounter, she unwittingly returns home with empty pockets and is beaten to death by her father as a result. I was horrified by this story most of all, not because the events were frightening, but because I know things like this happen in real life. The author subtly reminds the reader that children are most vulnerable, thus forcing us to confront the monsters of everyday life. Sumiko Saulson’s narrative voice is reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s, “Good Country People.” I enjoyed this unusual ghost story almost as much as Agrippa.

Agrippa |Hands down, my favorite story in the anthology. This short story takes a sharp left turn from A Life Of Her Own and dumps the reader into a suspenseful, sci-fi dystopian romp. We meet Agrippa, a feisty 80-something year old woman who is forced into experimentation labs during the aftermath of the Dulcetta Reforms. Scientists swap old peoples’ bodies with organic and inorganic hosts to find the source for everlasting life. Agrippa has all the makings of a new classic, and should be read alongside H.P. Lovecraft’s, “Whisperer in Darkness” or any of Neil Gaiman’s short stories. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but definitely read this story if you don’t read anything else by Sumiko Saulson! The author reads a short sample of Agrippa aloud HERE.

The Best Book You Never Read | This story is a weird one. A depressed writer busts his typewriter open, freeing two genies, Brownshit and Greenshit. The writer asks the genies to help him finish his novel, however the genies’ intentions are as ugly as their appearances. It’s a cautionary tale about drugs, but I like that the narrative reads like an acid trip. The surprise ending is definitely a surprise. I think I like this story for its bizarre premise and original writing.

Company | A gothic ghost story that will make you think. Despair saturates each sentence, oppressive, and inescapable to the reader as it is for the characters. A doomed waitress lives in a haunted town that sticks to melancholy like roaches on flypaper. She struggles to free herself, but finds herself hopelessly bound to the lost souls around her. When they die, they stay. No one leaves. Ever. It’s an interesting story about life and death and moving past it. Again, Sumiko Saulson shows sensitivity towards her characters, painting even the most pathetic bum in a sympathetic light. Whether or not the town deserves it, the reader can’t help but feel sorry for its undead residents.

As with most anthology collections, the short stories in “Things That Go Bump In My Head” range from brilliant to just so-so. I enjoyed most of the poems and original artwork. All in all, this is a great introduction to Sumiko Saulson and quiet horror and speculative fiction in general. She’s a fantastic writer and more people should read books like hers. It’s different. But different doesn’t always mean “bad.” I’m giving this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Hell yes all the way!

The Alpha Wolf Bent Me Over (Review)

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http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/205972

I met the author of this  short story on Goodreads. It was free on smashwords, and so I sat down and gave it a go.

To be fair, this story is more erotica than horror, but I’m always down for smut. However I was disappointed that the Alpha Wolf played such a teensy role. The premise of the story is pretty basic: slutty step-sisters at summer camp discover urban legend about an Alpha Wolf’s insatiable lust for virgins. I was hoping to see more doggy-stalking and frothy, teen homicides in the woods, but alas. I guess there is only so much you can pack into a 3,000 word story. Anyway, the story wasn’t bad. Just not what the title advertised. The slutty stepsisters got more action from human boys than werewolves. It was a free story so I don’t feel gipped. But yeah, don’t go into it thinking you’ll see lots of carnage and beastly transformations. This isn’t that kind of story. Still, I’m glad I picked it up. 3.5 stars out of 5!

No Surrender (Review)

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No SurrenderNo Surrender by Dale Lucas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This military-historical-horror novella was my first exposure to Dale Lucas. I had heard good things about the author’s ‘Doc Voodoo’ series and so I gave the novella a go. ‘No Surrender’ is a “Lovecraftian Horror,” and successfully blends American Civil War history with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Like a proper Lovercraftian yarn, the horror slithers at a snail’s pace, starting first with Yates and his hysterical retelling of the Terrible Awful Thing he saw in the woods. Orion Bell, the madman-scientist-occultist who now leads the Ku Klux Klan, is butchering Negroes to resurrect an ancient, evil deity. Of course no one believes Yates, but Lieutenant Kenning marches Union soldiers into the woods to investigate the claims anyway.
The weirdness progresses from there. They encounter a town full of crustacean-people who chase them onto a roof, terrified runaway slaves, a mansion haunted by a manic, homicidal bride, and of course, Nyarlathotep (aka Terrible Awful Thing that Yates saw in the woods.) I won’t spoil what happens because the story is so short. But it’s a fun read—gory in some parts and full of local color and atmosphere. Faces are nailed into tree trunks and everyone goes insane. Fun stuff.
I liked how Lucas weaved civil war history and the Ku Klux Klan into his plot. You will feel Florida’s mosquitoes and stifling humidity on each page. The author lives in the St. Petersburg/Tampa-area where the story takes place. And his regional knowledge shines through, here, as he paints the geographical landscape.
Alternate historical stories are great because familiar ideas are retold in creative ideas. Normally, I am bored to tears by American Civil War stories. Seldom are they interesting or informative, but Lucas manages to pack the historical references in without droning on like a 6th grade social studies textbook. I heartily recommend ‘No Surrender’ to anyone who enjoys H.P. Lovecraft or dark, military thrillers.

Darkened Hills (Review)

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Darkened Hills (Darkened - The West Virginia Vampire Series, Book #1)Darkened Hills by Gary Lee Vincent

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first glance ‘Darkened Hills’ looks like any other run-of-the-mill vampire book. With its unsubtle references to Bram Stoker’s, ‘Dracula’ and Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot,’ one might dismiss the novel for being yet another uninspired regurgitation. Horror readers are all too familiar with vampire lore and its tropes; therefore it takes an exceptional vampire story to stand tall above the rest. Gary Vincent not only succeeds in doing that, but does so while providing buckets of laughs and snorts.

‘Darkened Hills’ is an eccentric mishmash of gothic horror, pop culture, and black, tongue-in-cheek comedy. I appreciated the author’s nod to my favorite show, ‘Breaking Bad’ with the character, Walt Pinkman. I also loved how Vincent opened each chapter with a quote from one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Each quote foreshadowed the events of the chapter—a strange, but dexterous touch on the author’s part. But no, this is not a literary horror novel. Nor does it try to be. There is gore and splatter for comedic effect. Most memorable is the scene when that man runs over a herd of cats with his lawnmower. Do feline guts and “girlie cams” add much suspense? No. Was it funny? Hell yes. And that sums up much of what ‘Darkened Hills’ accomplishes here.

This book is an ode to popular vampire novels before it. Vincent does not attempt to supersede the legacy of Stoker and King, but rather poke fun at it and revel in their entertainment value. The campiness is a refreshing approach and reminded me of Robert Rodriquez’s movie, ‘Planet Terror.’ Even as I write this sentence, I am replaying the ridiculous “Cat Herding” scene in my mind and am grinning again.

I wouldn’t say ‘Darkened Hills’ is frightening, but it is funny and there’s plenty of cheese, sex, and violence to love.

View all my reviews