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.

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!

Night Moves

A short story collection from Mary SanGiovanni

4/5 Star Review

Up next for Women in Horror Month, I read Mary SanGiovanni for the first time and I was quite pleased!

For those of you who don’t know, Ms. SanGiovanni has a cosmic horror podcast, Cosmic Shenanigans, on the Project Entertainment Network. For those of you like me, maybe you didn’t know about this genre – or referred to it as Lovecraftian horror. I was beyond thrilled to discover this podcast and give an actual name to this sub-genre of horror that I really enjoy. I guess I was living with my head in the sand. It was because of this podcast and listening to Ms. SanGiovanni co-host The Horror Show with Brian Keene that I decided to give one of her books a try. I love short story collections, so I thought it would be a good place to start.

Night Moves, is a beautiful collection of cosmic horror, ghost stories, and tales that are simply, other. The common thread throughout the book are the deeply human connections found in each one – fear, loss, love, and sadness. This is so important in a book where the horror can be, at times, so far beyond human comprehension that you need that connection to tether you to the fear the character is experiencing.

Like almost every anthology, some stories are stronger than others, and for me, Night Moves was no exception. The shorts that stood out for me in this collection were: The Hundred-Years’ Sleep, about loving a princess and saving the world; The Anathema Cell, about a container that does not belong in our realm; Shadow Puppets, a tale of heartbreak and closet monsters; and The Mime, about a creepy, creepy, creepy mime.

I will definitely be seeking out Mary SanGiovanni’s full-length novels to add to my TBR mountain – she is a must-read for fans of this tasty little sub-genre.

Last Night at the Blue Alice

A novella by Mehitobel Wilson

5/5 Star Review

If I am nothing else, I am consistent! For my second Women in Horror Month read I chose another ghost story… of sorts.

Mollie Chandler has almost completed her training to become a psychopomp – an entity that helps souls to move on to the afterlife. She has one final test that she must complete: Spend one night at the Blue Alice, the most haunted house in the Commonwealth, to come to understand the lives of past residents in order to prevent them from becoming ghosts and haunting the home in the future. If Mollie should fail her test, if could mean death for her – or far, far worse.

The Last Night at the Blue Alice blends time travel, Greek mythology, and horror into a wonderful little book. Wilson has created an oubliette into which all of the time travel scenes morph seamlessly into each other. She pays careful attention to the decades – my personal favorite was the goth scene in the mid-90’s. Man, oh man, did that take me back! The soundtrack for this chapter hit home and made me remember exactly how much Switchblade Symphony that I listened to back in the day. I digress….

If you are looking for an enjoyable, cross-genre novella – I highly recommend this one. It was just so much fun!

I picked this title up, along with Dangerous Red (which has just moved up higher in my TBR stack for sure!) directly from Necro Publications in October 2017 when they had a booth at Spooky Empire in Orlando.