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Smashwords book reviews by Rabid Fox
- Courting Morpheus
on March 11, 2011
I enjoy anthologies, and every now and then there's one that shares a setting rather than a theme which adds a unique flavor to the book as a whole. It gives the sense that every story is connected in some tangible way. In this case, Jodi Lee's fictional town of New Bedlam provides the backdrop for fourteen short stories. Reading the book, I had the inkling that New Bedlam was not totally unlike The Blackstone Chronicles, John Saul's series of stories set within that one town, but New Bedlam is a town of a completely different beast. Not only is it a sandbox for all of the contributing authors, but the stories they write all revolve around writers too--drawn to New Bedlam by some otherworldly compulsion.
New Bedlam is a quaint little town set somewhere between Toronto and New Orleans. The deliberate lack of a pinpoint on a map provides an extra bit of mystery to the place, giving it that "Everytown, U.S.A." vibe. There's a suspected serial killer in town, if the rampant rumors are to be believed, and the murders don't seem to have any rhyme or reason. The thread that connects them is authors--writers that have migrated to New Bedlam from all four corners and exhibit a proclivity towards darker fiction. A town full of horror authors. Perish the thought.
I lucked out by winning a copy of this anthology through a contest Belfire Press. It piqued my interest when I recognized a few of the names in the table of contents. Louise Bohmer I know from reading and reviewing her debut novel, The Black Act. Then I saw Brandon Layng's name, whose short fiction I've already had a chance to read online, as well from visiting his blog regularly. I also saw Camille Alexa listed, who I recognized from the anthology Shadows of the Emerald City, in which we both have short stories published. Then there was Alethea Kontis (we each have stories published in the sci-fi anthology Zero Gravity) who provided the introduction to the book.
Insomnia is the other shared theme in this anthology, and the disturbing dreams and imaginations of the writers holding influence on the real world. Hence the title "Courting Morpheus". It's a cool concept and varied widely by the stories Jodi Lee has selected for the book. There's some atmospheric stuff with Jeff Parrish's "Like Father, Like Daughter", some more eccentric style with Ann Tupek's "Aldevouring Chesterfield", and some stomach-turning horror with Brandon Layng's "Can of Worms." There's definitely something for everyone.
It's a good read and a nice find among the small press, but if you're having trouble sleeping and looking for a book to curl up with in hopes of lulling off to dreamland, I'm not so sure this is the one you'll want to fill your head before you close your eyes.
- Old School
on June 08, 2012
I like my monsters with sharp teeth, and it would the folks at Belfire Press do too. In answer to the call of sparkly vampires and lovelorn lycanthropes, Louise Bohmer tasked six other authors--and an undead poet known as Zombie Zak--to give horror's iconic monsters a reprieve from the romantic.
Now, I'm not a fan of poetry, so excuse my boorish ways. I will say, however, ol' Zombie Zak did cook up a couple poems that I did enjoy, particularly the introductory one entitled "Red Red Rain." It worked quite well in leading up to Greg Hall's story about vampires, "The Gorgeous Undead." I've only read two other works from Greg before--his debut novel, At the End of Church Street, and the less lengthy Dracula's Winky (just Google it). With this short story, Greg strips away the immaculate gothic nature of the vampire myth and offers an eye-opening experience for a young woman absolutely obsessed with the bloodsuckers.
Monsters of nearly every stripe are re-imagined in this anthology. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are the big three, yes, but then there are the ones you might have forgotten about. The monsters from those classic Universal days of horror and sci-fi.
Horace James' "Mummies of the Caribbean" might be my favorite among them all, with a wickedly effective depiction of the mummy of old, but seen through a more grotesque lens. It had a great blend of the B-movie nature of the plot with some really well drawn characters. Couldn't ask for better from a book like this. I hadn't heard of Horace before reading this book, so I'll have to watch out for his work now. Jackie Gamber's "Heart of Stone" is another one that highlighted a less popular monster and gave a truly humanizing and horrifying point of view, this time on the golem. The ending didn't feel at all surprising to me, but it was a kicker nonetheless and felt right on point.
For a great blending of humor and horror--an emphasis on the horror--were R. Scott McCoy's "Play Time" and David Dunwoody's "The Missionary." Respectively, creepy kids and things from outer space are two great cliches from horror and sci-fi that I will likely never tire of, and these two stories offered very fun and frightening moments.
Not all of the stories are as entertaining as the ones I've lined out, but that's the way it goes with any anthology. With each author, including Louise, penning two stories each, there are more than enough elbow room for each to explore the monsters of old, and either offer a new spin or untangle them from the twists the modern age has given them.
If you're like me and you've got an appetite for those classic creature features, this is an anthology for you. Old School explores the familiar and tries to cast it in a new light--and for the most part it succeeds.
- Before Leonora Wakes
on July 24, 2012
I figured if I was going to dive into Lee Thompson's Division mythos, I needed to start at the very beginning, and that meant reading his novella, Before Leonora Wakes, a coming-of-age adventure focusing on the boyhood version of Red Piccirilli.
Set in 1960s Michigan, Red is a twelve-year-old boy whose only friend, Pig, is imaginary. Always up for adventures together, they see a strange man who not only appears to possess supernatural abilities, but can also see Pig, which frightens the imaginary sidekick. They follow the stranger to his home though, hoping to find out his secret, and wind up discovering there is a little girl trapped in a cage inside the stranger's shed. Despite the menace that radiates from the man, Pig convinces Red they need to rescue the girl. But they've already been warned by the stranger to stay away, and when a new friend of Red's named Amy goes missing, the stakes are raised even more.
Red is an immensely intriguing character, complemented by his relationships and decisions throughout the story. The quickly evolving relationship he has with his imaginary friend, Pig, was especially engrossing. At first, it's not quite clear if Pig is a ghost or pure concoction, but he certainly takes on a life of his own and exhibits his own motivations and desires as the story progresses. Red, in reaction to this, is faced with whether the friendship he has with Pig is as innocent and mutually beneficial as he always took for granted.
The rescue story really hearkened to those wonderful childhood stories of wanting to be the knight in shining armor who saves the damsel in distress. It's the kind of story that nearly every boy daydreams about at some point in their childhood, with the only real difference among us is the monster we must face. In Red's case, the monster is nothing like what he expected, and even when its true face is shown, he's still unsure of himself and his allegiances.
Before Leonora Wakes reminded me of Clive Barker's The Thief of Always in spots, as well as Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, two other magnificent coming-of-age tales with hefty doses of the supernatural. It's a little rough around in the edges in spots, like the moments Red spends at home with his parents, but the family dynamic itself is rough around the edges, so I'm unsure how much I can criticize that at all. What I will say is that for a hundred pages of magic and mystery, the story feels remarkably grand in scope and definitely had me eager to read more stories set in Lee's Division.