Reviews

Of Foster Homes and Flies

A coming-of-age novella by Chad Lutzke

5/5 Star Review

Of Foster Homes and Flies is the first title that I have read from Chad Lutzke and it will certainly become the first of many. I have been collecting Mr. Lutzke’s titles here and there after seeing so many positive reviews of his work from BookTubers and on Twitter. I bought this title as an ebook, but finally took the leap into Lutzke Land this past week when I won a giveaway for the audio version.

This novella is a Southern Gothic coming-of-age tale set in the sweltering heat of an early New Orleans summer. Denny is a 12-year-old boy preparing for his end of the school year spelling bee. He lives alone with his abusive, alcoholic mother and wakes one morning to discover that she’s died during the night. Denny decides not to report her death until after the spelling bee and this is the story of the days leading up to it.

I know this sounds dark, and it is – but it is also filled with so much hope. Denny, for all his understanding of his mother, her abuse, and her addiction, still has an endearing naivety that he holds on to. Of Foster Homes and Flies is extremely well-written and the story and characters are so very well-developed for a novella. I found Lutzke’s writing akin to Daniel Woodrell’s, but far more optimistic.

I highly recommend this title for any fan of coming-of-age horror, Southern Gothics, or horror with heart.

A Weirdish Wild Space

A collection of essays from Mary SanGiovanni

5/5 Star Review

Night Moves was the first body of work that I read from Professor Mary SanGiovanni – and I was not disappointed! I initially became familiar with her from listening to her cosmic horror podcast, Cosmic Shenanigans and as a co-host on The Horror Show with Brian Keene. Both podcasts are available for free from the Project Entertainment Network. If you are a fan of the genre and not listening to these podcasts, you are sorely missing out. Not long ago, I was listening to an older episode of one of these two shows and Mary’s essay collection, A Weirdish Wild Space, was mentioned. I was thrilled to hear that she had a non-fiction collection and I ordered it straight away.

This collection of essays spans from 2004 to 2016 and absolutely runs the gamut as far as content is concerned. In these essays you will find Mary’s thoughts on writing; on being a mother, sister, lover, and woman; her perspectives on the infamous Dorchester/Leisure fiasco, remembrances, the anatomy of the Silent Hill franchise, and so so so much more!

For me, personally, my favorite takeaway was not a particular essay or thought, but the overall feeling of the collection. Many of the essays hit home pretty hard, especially those related to relationships and depression. On a logical level, you know that you are not alone and certainly not the first to feel this way – but it is so comforting to read someone else’s words and know, in your heart, that there is someone else who has felt the same way that you have or who has had a similar experience.

I highly recommend this collection – it is a fantastic snapshot of the last 15 years told through the voice of one of horror fiction’s foremost leading ladies.

Westlake Soul

A soul-shattering novel by Rio Youers

5/5 Star Review

“Then I soared toward the sun, breaking through the exosphere into outer space, until – ninety-three million miles from home- I arrived at my destination. I threw my arms open and let it burn me. Ten thousand Fahrenheit. The world’s light. The world’s love. But still it couldn’t make up for what I had lost.”

This book… This wonderful, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking book. It has been years since a novel has had this kind of impact on my life. It will make you rethink what you thought you knew about life and death and the things, the feelings, that truly matter.

I’m not going to use this space to recap the premise, I couldn’t do it justice. Even if you’ve read the synopsis on the back of the book, it would not prepare you for the story of Westlake Soul – and it is a beautiful story. Written with words, but told in colors, emotions, touch, and landscapes.

Rio Youers is well-known in the horror community, but this little book defies genre. Relatively short, at 243 pages, it hits hard and leaves you broken. That being said, it also leaves you with the hope you need to “rebuild” yourself into someone stronger, someone who appreciates more, someone who lives life, someone who changes lives.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime book that you need to read. I can’t recommend it enough, and I will never stop recommending it.

Westlake Soul was published in 2012 by ChiZine Publications and is, unfortunately, out of print. Due to the recent resurgence of this book, second-hand copies have become extremely expensive. I was lucky enough to find a copy in my local library system and you can bet I will be hunting for a copy out in the wild!

Junji Ito: Master of Horror Manga

Gyo (volumes 1-2) & Shiver

As I begin to dip my toes into the horror community on Twitter and BookTube, I have been seeing one name pop up over and over again in conversations about horror comics: Junji Ito. Uzumaki is the title that tends to pop up the most frequently, but as I was strolling through my local library, I happened upon these two titles and decided to check them out.

Gyo is a 2-volume series about a virus developed during WWII that was intended to become weaponized. Tadashi and Kaori are taking a little getaway in Okinawa when fish with crab-like legs begin walking out of the ocean after a mysterious object shoots into the water. I don’t want to give too much away, but Gyo is, in truth, far funnier than it is scary. The body horror and the violence is so over-the-top that it becomes ridiculous, and if you are a horror veteran, you will find yourself laughing much more often than you will be getting any chills.

Overall, Gyo was a 4/5 Star Read for me – not because it was scary, but because it was so excessive and exaggerated. I had a fun time reading both volumes and was entertained for a few hours – that’s really what this is about in the end, right?

Shiver, on the other hand, is a large collection of short stories, almost all of which are quite creepy. Junji Ito provides commentary, story development notes, and sketches for every piece in this collection. It was amazing to me to read how an abstract thought, a portion of a childhood memory, or a dream could produce these tales. While there are different horror elements present in this collection, body horror is the most prevalent.

Standout stories for me were Honored Ancestors, about a girl with amnesia and a boy whose family tree never truly dies; Hanging Blimp; about a phenomenon that seems to start with a pop idol committing suicide; Marionette Mansion; about a family of performers and their marionettes; and Shiver; the only story to truly creep me out because of my trypophobia – I simply cannot handle small holes.

5/5 Star Review for this anthology – Shiver was an enjoyable and sometimes a truly terrifying read.

I know body horror, and even comics, are not for everyone – but if these don’t get under your skin – I highly recommend you check out Juni Ito . I will be reading everything that I can get my hands on!

Corpse Cold

New American Folklore written by John Brhel & Joe Sullivan and illustrated by Chad Wehrle

5/5 Star Review

I first found out about this collection from a bookmark that was included in my January (I think…) Night Worms subscription box. Shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon Cameron Chaney’s BookTube channel and saw a great review for it (here). I knew I had to have it.

If you were a child in the 90’s and a fan of all things creepy, chances are you read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. I sure was and can remember checking these books out from the school library over and over again. I loved them – and they terrified me. The illustrations alone were solid nightmare fuel.

Why am I waxing nostalgic about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Let me tell you – Corpse Cold is a gorgeous homage to these childhood classics. Brhel & Sullivan have written a brilliant new collection amassing classic folklore tropes, local legends, and personal experience and packaging it all into this little book that is most definitely not for children.

Standout stories for me were Czarny Lud, a story of the Polish boogeyman and misbehaving children; Autoplay ‘On’, a cautionary tale of the dark web; Moss Lake Island, on why you should never trust witches; It That Decays, body horror that is not for the faint of heart; and Jesup, a tale of a boy and his pets.

Special recognition goes to Chad Wehrle for his illustrations in this collection. He truly captured the grotesque beauty that Stephen Gammell was known for and brought these stories to life with his artwork in Corpse Cold.

If you are jonesing for some scary stories and wishing to recapture that campfire nostalgia, look no further – you need Corpse Cold in your life. Brhel & Sullivan own and publish under their own imprint, Cemetery Gates Media. They have several other story collections that you can guarantee I will be ordering soon!

My Sister, The Serial Killer

A novel by Oyinkan Braithwaite

5/5 Star Review

My final read for February, and for Women in Horror Month, was the darkly humorous and enjoyable My Sister, The Serial Killer.

Oyinkan Braithwaite is an author from Nigeria and this is her first novel published in the United States. She is yet another international author that I hope to read more from in the future.

My Sister, The Serial Killer follows older sister, Korede, and her younger sister, Ayoola. Korede is a respected nurse in a local hospital and her sister designs clothing and has a habit of killing her boyfriends in “self-defense.” Korede always gets the call and helps Ayoola clean up. Korede begins to question her loyalty to her sister when Ayoola starts to date the handsome, young doctor that Korede is secretly in love with. What’s a girl to do when your serial killer sister is moving in on the man you love?

Korede and Ayoola both share different naivetes when it comes to men and social graces. Ayoola understands what men want – even seemingly good-hearted men and tries to make Korede understand. Korede tries to make Ayoola understand that it’s poor form to SnapChat days after your boyfriend has gone missing.

Braithwaite’s use of political and culture satire is masterful and makes this novel work in a way that makes you sympathetic to these otherwise unlikable characters.

Highly recommend this quick read to horror and thriller fans – especially for those who enjoyed the early Dexter books.

Things We Lost in the Fire

Stories by Mariana Enriquez

5/5 Star Review

Continuing on with Women in Horror Month, I read the phenomenal short story collection Things We Lost in the Fire. Mariana Enriquez is a novelist and journalist from Argentina and this is her first work to be published in English. I truly hope that there will be more of her work to come.

Short stories are my favorite medium for horror, but it is rare to find a single collection where every story is fantastic – Things We Lost in the Fire is an exception to this. There are twelve stories in this book and Every. Single. Story. is impactful, some are brutal, and all are poignant.

The author seamlessly blends horror, culture, politics, and the socio-economic climate of Argentina into these perfectly executed tales of ghosts, sadness, loss, and monsters. Each story has its own particular flavor and the collection is home to everything from magical realism to cosmic horror.

Trying to pick favorites out of this collection is near impossible, but some that have stuck with me are The Dirty Kid, about Saints, sacrifices, and missing children; Adela’s House, what happens when you face your fears and explore the haunted house; The Neighbor’s Courtyard, why you should always question a rental that seems to good to be true; Under the Black Water, about awakening an ancient evil that’s been asleep for a long time; and the title story, Things We Lost in the Fire, a sort of feminist call-to-arms. I realize that is nearly half of the stories – but this is book is just that good! 

I purchased this collection after reading so many positive reviews and am so glad that I did! It has to the potential to speak to so many different audiences – don’t let this one pass by. Highly recommended!