Review: Mother Maggot by Simon McHardy

Mother Maggot

Buy it Here: Potter’s Grove Press,


After a fried-chicken-fuelled sex romp, Eddie embarks on a perverted odyssey. Murder, torture, geriatrics, bugs and big beautiful women all fail to satisfy him until he meets the Maggot Mother—a nymphomaniac, cannibal, human-maggot with a sweet side. On his trail is Cindy a beautiful cop with her own dark sexual perversions. WARNING: EXTREME SEXUAL HORROR AND VIOLENCE.


There has been a great amount of buzz and mystery about Mother Maggot since it came out. After being self-published, it disappeared from Amazon due to content. It returned on SmashWords, but was pulled in less than 24 hours for content. By the time this novella found a publisher, Potter’s Grove Press, there was a clamor to read this book. What is so horrible and grotesque about this book that caused it to have so many problems? 

With this as a backstory, I came into this novella expecting the worst. I was not disappointed, but I was not shocked. There are some very nasty, gross-out sex scenes. Every character is filled with sexual depravity and there is not one scene wasted. The entire story is over the top, filled with sex, violence, murder, blood, and maggots. 

This is one of those stories that I cannot recommend to everyone because there are some people who just will not appreciate this for what it is, a extremely graphic horror and sex story that tries very hard to gross people out. I think there are certain things that happen that detach me from the reality of the situation. Like there are many many books where the characters can be a neighbor down the street or even me. In Mother Maggot, the characters are more caricatures, killing each other, having deviant sex and unhealthy relationships, and at the end of the day, the story is more funny and entertaining than serious. This ability to disconnect, to make this more about entertainment than about the story sucking me in and making me feel for these characters, is what makes Mother Maggot a story that I say must be read by anyone who dares. This is something disgusting about every single one of the characters, but the style of the book keeps these characters on the page and not someone that you honestly feel like you could meet on the street on any given day. 

After all of the hype of Mother Maggot, I will say that it meets the expectations. The story is graphic. The story is disgusting. There are some scenes that made me cringe, but as a whole, there is nothing about this novella that says that it should not be read. There is no reason why it should have been de-platformed from Amazon or SmashWords, but it is definitely a book that you should read at your own risk. 

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Review: Unfortunates by Leo X. Robertson

Unfortunates by [Leo X. Robertson]

Tentative release date: June 24, 2021

Preorder it here: Amazon


In this collection of stories a sadistic blogger gleefully documents the murders of Hollywood celebrities. A journalist infiltrates a sex club for the physically impaired, finding he has more in common with them than he first assumed. A soon-to-be-dad gets seduced by a water spirit, which questions everything he thought he could impart as a father. And a primary school teacher meets his most difficult class yet: a horde of undead children.
In these stories, ordinary people must confront their biggest flaws and deepest fears in worlds eerily similar to our own. Because the worst horrors are the real ones we create for ourselves.


Unnerving Books and Leo X Robertson have had a long history together, starting in 2017 with their release of his novelette, Bonespin Slipcase. After the success of the Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series of novellas (every single one of them worth reading), they are set to release Robertson’s short story collection Unfortunates, and hopefully more readers will read it due to attention Unnerving is receiving for publishing great books.

Unfortunates is a collection of nine stories, all of them giving a different feel. Some of them, like “The Art is Absent” and “A Sensational Star-Studded Blood Feast!” push against the borders of extreme horror, whereas others range from revenge, serial killer mystery, and the title novella, “Unfortunates”, which could have been written into a Stephen King collection. Each of these stories bring variety, but there is a common thread through all of these stories. The main characters in each of them are haunted, are trying to find or escape from something, and whether it be revenge or smoking weed and playing video games, all of them are trying to find a solution. The mood of many of these stories and characters is heavy with grief, anger, and frustration. At the end of many of these stories, Robertson’s conclusions are more interested in the development of the character and heart than in jump scares and horror, and this makes Unfortunates one of those collections that should not be lumped into genre horror but will be. 

Of course there is some great horror in here as well. One story that sticks out is “Lackers” a reprint of his contribution from The New Flesh?: A Tribute to David Cronenberg. This story is about a report who is going to a secret sex club where everyone is deformed in some manner. The idea alone is enough to make me talk to my friends about it, but again, the heart of the story is about longing to belong and to be understood. 

All of these stories are impressive, and this collection is one that will make me seek out more of Leo X. Robertson’s works. He is definitely writing horror that is loaded with emotion and feeling, and when someone can make you cringe and make you empathize with the attacker at the same time, then this is writing that deserves our attention.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.   

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Review: Snowball by Gregory Bastianelli

Buy it here: Amazon, Bookshop


A group of motorists become stranded on a lonely stretch of highway during a Christmas Eve blizzard and fight for survival against an unnatural force in the storm. The gathered survivors realize a tenuous connection among them means it may not be a coincidence that they all ended up on this highway. An attempt to seek help leads a few of the travelers to a house in the woods where a twisted toymaker with a mystical snow globe is hell bent on playing deadly games with a group of people just trying to get home for the holidays.


There are certain situations that are frightening on premise alone. Snowball starts with a wreck during a blizzard that causes a backup on the highway. A backup of cars with occupants being trapped for the night. The idea of this happening in real life causes anxiety from the beginning. Add this to something strange happening in the winds of the blizzard, and the impending doom of nobody coming to rescue them, and I knew that this was going to be one of those novels that is riveting and bone-chilling. 

Snowball has a great story and the characters are each introduced in the first few chapters, but as the night gets later and the characters start to get closer, all meeting in a warm RV, you start to feel that most of this large cast of characters is fairly well developed and that you are stuck in the snow with them. In the first half of the book, one of the things that they do to pass the time is tell the memories of their worst winter, and each of them have a story, one that really adds depth to the psyche of the people stuck in this situation, deep in the snows of an impassable highway.

There are moments when you feel the cold winds and deep snow as they are going out to get more people or to try to figure out a way to free themselves. Gregory Bastianelli does a good job of creating the scene, making us feel the claustrophobia of being in the RV with several strangers while you do not know if any help is going to arrive. While they are passing time, telling stories, you start to feel the same sort of dread the characters must be feeling, like are they going to ever get out of this situation. 

The first half is a situational horror and the second half is a supernatural horror. I liked the first half better than the second, but I think the novel as a whole is pretty well done. The only character that feels a little two dimensional is Tucker, who is a truck driver and is referred to as big and heavy about thirty times once he becomes central to the story, but other than that, I enjoyed this novel and when next Christmas comes around, I will probably recommend it to all of my horror reading friends.

I received this as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Goblin by Josh Malerman

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Preorder: Amazon Bookshop


From the New York Times bestselling author of Bird Box and Malorie, a novella collection in which every story reveals a sinister secret about a mysterious small town

Goblin seems like any other ordinary small town. But with the master storyteller Josh Malerman as your tour guide, you’ll discover the secrets that hide behind its closed doors. These six novellas tell the story of a place where the rain is always falling, nighttime is always near, and your darkest fears and desires await. Welcome to Goblin. . . .

A Man in Slices: A man proves his “legendary love” to his girlfriend with a sacrifice even more daring than Vincent van Gogh’s–and sends her more than his heart.

Kamp: Walter Kamp is afraid of everything, but most afraid of being scared to death. As he sets traps around his home to catch the ghosts that haunt him, he learns that nothing is more terrifying than fear itself.

Happy Birthday, Hunter!: A famed big-game hunter is determined to capture–and kill–the ultimate prey: the mythic Great Owl who lives in Goblin’s dark forests. But this mysterious creature is not the only secret the woods are keeping.

Presto: All Peter wants is to be like his hero, Roman Emperor, the greatest magician in the world. When the famous magician comes to Goblin, Peter discovers that not all magic is just an illusion.

A Mix-Up at the Zoo: The new zookeeper feels a mysterious kinship with the animals in his care . . . and finds that his work is freeing dark forces inside him.

The Hedges: When his wife dies, a man builds a hedge maze so elaborate no one ever solves it–until a little girl resolves to be the first to find the mysteries that wait at its heart. 


Originally appeared at

Josh Malerman has been growing in popularity in large part due to the success of the Netflix adaptation of his hit, Bird Box. Before he sold Bird Box to Ecco/Harper in 2014, he had 14 manuscripts he had finished but never tried to publish.

In the last six years, since the publication of Bird Box, he has published eight novels and three novellas. Goblin was actually one of these, published in 2017 by Earthling Publications as a 500 copy, numbered, special edition. Needless to say, those all sold out years ago. Technically this is a reissue by Random House, but this is also a reissue that needs to exist.

Goblin is a town in Michigan filled with mystery and wonder. It’s supposed to have been a town built on spoiled land. Goblin gets above-average rainfall, buries their dead standing up, has exotic owls and a witch in the North Woods, and is definitely haunted. Malerman breaks this book up into six different novellas with a prologue and epilogue bookend story, every story unfolds more and more about the town of Goblin as it tells the individual stories. Malerman does this in a fantastic way. The first story has the characters take a walk through town to give the readers an idea of the set up. The second story has a historian who tells the origins of the town. The third story tells about the mysterious North Woods, with the Great Owls and the Whispering Witch. The fifth story tells about the attractions at the Hardy Carroll Goblin Zoo, and the sixth story tells about Hedges, a labyrinth tourist attraction built with hedges like the maze at the Overlook Hotel in the film version of The Shining. Not only does every novella add to the myth and lore of Goblin, but they also tell some really great horror stories as well. I loved the tension that builds in every story, and there are a few stories, particularly “Kamp” and “The Hedges” where I had to hurry to read the final sentences so I could stop holding my breath.

The great thing about Goblin being a series of novellas instead of short stories, Malerman has time to make Goblin a town that feels like another character. There is not the urgency of a short story, but there is also the fact that most readers will not like every story but there is an eventual escape coming soon with an ending and the start of another completely different story. Most of these stories are riveting and push me to keep reading, but a few of them just do not fit as well into the collection as others. One of these is the fourth story, “Presto” about a magician that is coming into Goblin for a one-night performance. This story is great as a whole, the mystery of whether or not the magician’s magic is too good for anyone to figure out or if it is really magic, but it does not fit as well into the book as the others because it spends more time with the magician named Roman Emperor than it does with the people of the town. The way that all of the other stories add more to the mystery and history of the town, and the absence of that in this story, really puts a spotlight on this being missed.

As a whole, there are many people who will not want to read this because it is a series of novellas instead of a novel, but it does not feel like a typical short story collection. All the settings interweave, and at the end of this extraordinary book readers will understand Goblin is about a place and its people: a town filled with eccentrics, curses, and mystery.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Boinking Bizarro edited by Danger Slater and Brian Asman

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Buy it here:

Death’s Head Press, Amazon


From the demented minds of Bizarro authors Danger Slater and Brian Asman comes Boinking Bizarro, an anthology of weird literary parodies. You’ve never seen the classics quite like this. We’ve taken that old, musty canon and dressed it up in lace, leather, and lipstick. Wowza!

In Boinking Bizarro, a glory hole attendant seeks to give his wife the family she deserves, a time-traveling professor gives blind poet John Donne a hand, a slick serial killer gets the tables turned on that ass, a PI delves into the mysterious goings-on at a whorehouse, the forgotten erotic ouevre of Alfred Horsecock is explored, a trip to Mars puts a cloned super-soldier in a seminally sticky situation, and how did they film the infamous orgy scene in that Stephan Kink clown movie, anyway? Dystopian futures, disaffected slang-spewing youth, sexy tortures, and rapidly-growing pubic hair abound!

Plus, Pinnochio’s big dick energy. Which is like this whole thing in and of itself.

If you’ve ever wanted to lose your virginity to the acrid scent of your mother’s burning corpse, this is the anthology you’ve been waiting for! And if not, get fucked.

Stories by:
Brian Asman
Danger Slater
John Wayne Comunale
Autumn Christian
Gina Ranalli
Betty Rocksteady
Christine Morgan
John Skipp
Whit Slorp
Cody Goodfellow
Chad Stroup
Charles Austin Muir
Michael Allen Rose
Max Booth III
Lucan Mangum
Chandler Morrison
Amy Vaughn
Jessica McHugh

“Literature is just porn without the honesty”–Charles Buttkowski


Have you ever wondered what it would be like if someone made an anthology of stories stemming from sitting around with friend and making sex puns for every piece of classic literature and author name? Boinking Bizarro is this anthology.

Edited by bizarro heroes Danger Slater and Brian Asman, and published by Death’s Head Press, Boinking Bizarro is filled with every indie horror and bizarro author you should be reading. The concept of the anthology is a little ridiculous, but the execution is valid. Every single author is worth reading on his/her/their own merit. Like any anthology, there are some stories that I like more than others, but you can also see how each author brings their own individual style and voice to their piece. 

The digitial edition of this collection is about $5. This means that you only need five reasons to pick this up and read it. Here are five of the best stories that mean you should read it now (Even though these stories are worth much more than $1): 

  1. “A Bird Came Up My Walk and I Put It In My Vagina” by Emily Getta Dickinson, written by Amy Vaughn.

Amy Vaughn, one of the editors of Babou 691, gives an account of how Emily Getta Dickinson writes her poetry (It’s not what you think.) I think about this story more than any of the others and it makes me chuckle to myself throughout the day.

  1. “Nineteen Eighty-Fuck” by George Whorewell, written by Cody Goodfellow

This take on George Orwell’s classic, “1984” by award-winning author Cody Goodfellow, is almost a reverse of the original. I think I like this version better.

  1. “Whorehouse of Skeeves” by Clark Z Analewski, written by Chad Stroup

“House of Leaves” by Mark Z Danielewski is one of those memorable novels so I was interested in seeing what the author of a novel called, “Sexy Leper” would do with it. His idea is great and his homage to “House of Leaves” is spot on. 

  1. “The Man in the Iron Gimp-mask” by Alexhandjob Dumas, written by Christine Morgan 

This is probably one of the most complete stories in the anthology. Christine Morgan is a new author on my radar, and I will definitely be looking for more of her work.

  1. “A Clockwork Whoreange” by Antitty Pervness, written by Michael Allen Rose.

Michael Allen Rose pretty much retells the story of “A Clockwork Orange” in its entirety within six pages. The writing is skillful and honest to the original work. I will be preordering Michael Allen Rose’s newest book “Jurassichrist” when I finish this review.

These are five reasons to spend five dollars on this anthology, and really I do not even scratch the surface of the talent that grace the pages of this ridiculously deviant collection. You should probably just spend the extra $5 and get the paperback so that you can loan it to your friends when you’re done. You are simply a prude if you don’t buy it, and you don’t want to be a prude do you?

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Review: Girls Against God by Jenny Hval

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At once a time-travelling horror story and a fugue-like feminist manifesto, this is a singular, genre-warping new novel from the author of the acclaimed Paradise Rot

“It’s 1992 and I’m the Gloomiest Child Queen.”

Welcome to 1990s Norway. White picket fences run in neat rows and Christian conservatism runs deep. But as the Artist considers her past, her practice and her hatred, things start stirring themselves up around her. In a corner of Oslo, a coven of witches begins cooking up some curses. A time-travelling Edvard Munch arrives in town to join a black metal band, closely pursued by the teenaged subject of his painting Puberty, who has murder on her mind. Meanwhile, out deep in the forest, a group of school girls get very lost and things get very strange. Awful things happen in aspic.

Jenny Hval’s latest novel is a radical fusion of feminist theory and experimental horror, and a unique treatise on magic, gender and art. 


After the critical praise I heard about Jenny Hval’s first book, Paradise Rot, and after listening to her music (released on one of my favorite labels, Sacred Bones), I picked up Girls Against God knowing it will probably be strange, a little difficult, and a little all over the place. Girls Against God is part story, part essay, part manifesto on the struggle to find identity as a female in Norweigan society. From the first lines, Hval sets us up for a journey. Though it is difficult for readers to think that this is all fictional, that the narrator is not a mirror of Hval (considering it is so easy to do sometimes when the POV is first person), there are threads through this that bring about tones of witchcraft, body horror, and surreal science fiction. 

Throughout this novel, Hval keeps with a very solid theme, rebellion against power. The title itself alludes God being the ultimate power in Norwegian society, and the narrator is not going to accept that she is inferior. She tries to find things that are opposite of God to fight this power, from loving black metal and forming a band to going out into the woods to become a witch, these are negatives toward the whiteness of purity of the church and Norwegian consciousness. This was the reason for the uprising of black metal to begin with and the burning of churches in the early ,90s. Kids were against God. She is against light of any sort, even in the fact that she prefers movies to books because the end of the book is a white page, and the end of a movie is a black screen, the rebellion runs deep. The movies that she describes, “Insignificance,” “Deep Throat” “Sweet Movie”, all exist and they are all readily available. The focus on all of these, and with “Puberty” the painting by Munch that becomes a pretty major plot device, is the female discovering that the bonds that are holding them down in society are best thrown down, and girls need to rise up against God (or the power that God represents) and become the powerful ones. 

I had a hard time keeping my focus through reading this novel. There is so much moving around in the plot and descriptions that it is difficult to keep the threads straight sometimes. This is exactly what I expect of Jenny Hval and her writing because it makes sense to the way that her mind must work. It is a difficult book, but it has some interesting ideas and worth it.

I received this as an ARC through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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Review: The Wingspan of Severed Hands by Joanna Koch


Buy it here: Weirdpunk Books, Amazon


Three Women, One Battle

A world gone mad. Cities abandoned. Dreams invade waking minds. An invisible threat lures those who oppose its otherworldly violence to become acolytes of a nameless cult. As a teenage girl struggles for autonomy, a female weapons director in a secret research facility develops a living neuro-cognitive device that explodes into self-awareness. Discovering their hidden emotional bonds, all three women unveil a common enemy as their dissonant realities intertwine in a cosmic battle across hallucinatory dreamscapes.

Time is the winning predator, and every moment spirals deeper into the heart of the beast.


At the end of the novella The Wingspan of the Severed Hands, I closed the book and sat back in my chair. The first thing I thought was, “What the hell did I just read?” The story is two, maybe two and a half narratives weaved seamlessly in a fever dreamlike state. In the beginning, Adria’s mother catches her having sex and shames her. The second narrative is about Adria Bennet, a weapons director that is developing a neuro-cognitive weapon that turns into a female form named Adria.  Then whatever clarity we have been given slowly turns into a surreal confusion and some extreme horror. 

*This might feel like a spoiler but there is absolutely no way to spoil this book, but here’s a warning anyway*

Many different theories about what was actually going on formed while reading this, most of them more confusing than the next. One of the easy ones is that all three are the same person in different times or different dimensions. Another is that Adria, the girl in the beginning, is living in a world where everyone is going insane and this does not happen at all, that this is all induced by the stress of her mother catching her having sex. Another is that this is all just a metaphorical retelling of the fall of man in the book of Genesis. There can be more than these three ideas of the plot, and this is what makes this novella so special. Not everyone can pull off a book like this. Part of my time while reading without knowing much of what is happening actually was me thinking about how this was written. I could never write something like this. Joanna Koch’s writing is stunning and consistently striking. I reread several sentences, several paragraphs just from the sheer beauty of the words. Even the title, The Wingspan of Severed Hands has such a poetic quality to it, that I catch myself repeating it in my head over and over again while I am doing other things. 

I am glad that this is a small book because this is also one of the first books I have finished and wanted to reread immediately. I have no clue what has happened but I have several ideas that fit. Instead of putting this in my shelves of books already read, The Wingspan of Severed Hands will find itself right back in my TBR pile.

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Review: Later by Stephen King

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Buy it here: Amazon, Bookshop


#1 bestselling author Stephen King returns with a brand-new novel about the secrets we keep buried and the cost of unearthing them.

The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

Later is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. With echoes of King’s classic novel ITLater is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.


Stephen King. What is there to really say about his work? He is a prolific writer who has done more for the horror genre than most anyone else. He has fans, followers and those who only read his works. He has legions of devout fans that eat up every word he writes and can see no wrong. And then you have the rest of us. 

I enjoy Later, his third novel for the Hard Case Crime imprint (and those three books affords HCC to really put out some great pulp fiction reprints by Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Max Allen Collins, and new originals that might not find publication elsewhere). The story is about Jamie Conklin and his growing up seeing dead people. This ability is exploited by those who know about it, and the novel does become part mystery and part horror. The King hallmarks are all here. The kid befriends an elderly gentleman, the pop culture references are older than the characters, and some of the turns at humor are just bad. But compared to his last few books, Later feels like he is enjoying the writing. There have been a few of his books and stories lately that feel like he is mailing it in, giving the fans something to read but nothing that will increase his legacy. He has not written anything very memorable in a decade (I’m using 11/22/63 as really his last standout work), but Later seems to be on the right track. He uses a shorter form (or typical novel length) to really tell a great story. 

The book reads fast, and it is easy to get sucked into the plot. Jamie is a typical King kid so you want to root for him, especially since he is surrounded by people who want to use his powers for their own gains. He does whatever he can to make the grownups like him because he wants them to be proud of him or he does not want to get hurt.

There is something to be said about this type of horror, the type that King writes. There is a fear in people hurting and exploiting kids. He has repeated this device in the last few books (Outsider, The Institute, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”) and it makes sense because the scariest thing for most of his fans, who are now old enough to have kids, is to threaten harm against them. This is why we get so stuck in this book. Jamie is only six when he starts to notice the dead people, and from then until his late teens (when we are not as frightened because kids can theoretically start to defend themselves) people use his powers for their own advantages. We do not want anything harmful to happen to him, but we can also see, as adults, that the adults around him are up to no good. This makes Later an affective story. King knows that we want the kid to be safe so he puts the kid in peril. 

Compared to his last few books, I enjoy this one much more. There are still flaws and Kingisms that I find irritating (like the final reveal in the last few pages is not needed and nonsense), but as a whole, this is a solid book that I will recommend before some of his other current works.

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Review: Pearl Jam’s Vs. by Clint Brownlee

Buy it here: Amazon, Bookshop


Vs. is the sound of a band on fire. The same confluence of talent, passion, timing, and fate that made “grunge” the world’s soundtrack also lit a short fuse beneath Pearl Jam. The band combusted between late 1992 and mid-1994, the span during which they planned, recorded, and supported their sophomore record. The spotlight, the pressure, the pace-it all nearly turned the thriving act to ash.
Eddie Vedder, the reluctant public face of the band, responded by lashing out lyrically. Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, and Stone Gossard, who beheld success with varying degrees of anxious satisfaction, attacked their instruments in solidarity. Dave Abbruzzese welcomed the rock-star lifestyle, and left his mark on the record with more than just potent percussion.
Vs. roils with fury-and at times, gently steams-over the trappings of fame, human faults, and societal injustice. The record is a thrashing testament to Pearl Jam’s urgent creativity and greater-good interests, and the band’s logistical calculations behind it drew a career-defining line in the sand. It promised the world that Pearl Jam would neither burn out nor fade away. This book weaves research, little-known details, and band members’ memories into a definitive account of how Vs. set them on a path toward enduring integrity and relevance.


I have been enjoying the 33 ⅓ books for a while now, most all of them about albums I barely know anything about. I like to pick titles of music that has been on my radar but not on my playlist. This gives me the reason and opportunity to explore different great albums and listen to new artists and genres. Pearl Jam’s Vs. is not one of them.

When Vs., Pearl Jam’s sophomore album came out, I was sixteen. I had listened to Ten a little over six hundred and thirty nine thousand times by then (only a slight exaggeration), and so I was interested in this album before it even came out. I was a teenager filled with new hormones and angst, and the only thing that helped was hours and hours of music. I bought Vs.  close to the release date and listened to it nonstop. I am reading this book with an intimate knowledge of the album, the time period, and I remember some of the details when they were brought up by Clint Brownlee, like the (media exaggerated) “feud” between Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain, how they released the album on vinyl a week before it was on compact disc (My teenage self actually made fun of this at the time because who will ever listen to vinyl again?), and of course the boycott of Ticketmaster. I knew these things but did not know the deeper meaning behind these events. Brownlee does a great job getting to the bottom of the emotion and pressure on the band to make an album greater than Ten and how they did not let it destroy them, even though it came very close. The entire book brought up so many memories and also enlightened me on some of the turmoil around recording it that makes me have a better understanding and appreciation of this album.

I like the structure of this book, the way that Brownlee lumps the songs into chapters by theme or meaning. I also like the exploration of the more political songs, like “Rats” and “W.M.A”, which I always knew was a major statement about racism, but I did not think much about how they were a mainstream act using their popularity to talk about justice and the unfair disparity between white and black men. I knew that I liked these songs and that they were important, but I did not know how important they were to the band, to be able to use their platform to address issues that are important to them. 

There are some interesting stories filtered through the book about Vedder’s attitude and behavior, about the dynamics of the band, and about the reception of the album. I listened to Vs. a few times while reading this, and I will say that reading about it opened my eyes to how much depth Eddie Vedder’s lyrics are, and I felt like I was learning new things about an old friend. This is a great addition to the 33 ⅓ books. 

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Abstainer by Ian McGuire

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Buy it here: Amazon Bookshop


An Irishman in nineteenth-century England is forced to take sides when his nephew joins the bloody underground movement for independence in this propulsive novel from the acclaimed author of The North Water.

The rebels will be hanged at dawn, and their brotherhood is already plotting revenge.

Stephen Doyle, an Irish-American veteran of the Civil War, arrives in Manchester from New York with a thirst for blood. He has joined the Fenians, a secret society intent on ending British rule in Ireland by any means necessary. Head Constable James O’Connor has fled grief and drink in Dublin for a sober start in Manchester, and connections with his fellow Irishmen are proving to be particularly advantageous in spying on Fenian activity. When a long-lost nephew returns from America and arrives on O’Connor’s doorstep looking for work, O’Connor cannot foresee the way his fragile new life will be imperiled–and how his and Doyle’s fates will be intertwined.

In an epic tale of revenge and obsession, master storyteller Ian McGuire once again transports readers to a time when blood begot blood. Moving from the gritty streets of Manchester to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, The Abstainer is a searing novel in which two men, motivated by family, honor and revenge, must fight for life and legacy.


This review originally appeared at

In 2016, Ian McGuire made a splash with his novel The North Water because the plot was about finding an attacker who rapes and murders a boy on a whaling ship. This novel is very difficult to read. McGuire’s use of description makes the horror less on the pages as much as it is in the characters. I did not care much for the novel, but I really remembered it. It has been such a strong presence in my head that I was interested in reading McGuire’s follow up, The Abstainer, when it was released late last year. 

The experience with The Abstainer is much different than McGuire’s previous novel, and this is a good thing. The novel starts in Manchester, England in 1867 with the true event of three Irish Republican Brotherhood members being hanged outside of New Bailey Prison for the murder of a Manchester police sergeant. After this, the plot of retaliation by the Brotherhood is all of McGuire’s imagination. He introduces Stephen Doyle, an American Civil War veteran, who’s job is to travel to England, work with the Brotherhood, and get revenge on the police for hanging the three men. The Abstainer refers to Head Constable Jimmy O’Connor, the officer trying to find Doyle and bring down the Brotherhood. He does not drink alcohol due to his past as a grief filled Dublin detective who’s move to Manchester is a chance of salvation. 

After the first few pages, once I got into the rhythm of McGuire’s writing, I was hooked. The story moves fast and everything that happens, from the bloody murders to the secret meetings in the dirty rooms, every page of this just moves fast. McGuire’s language surrounds the reader, and I could almost feel and smell the grime and rot that follows all of these characters. The way that he structures sentences and paragraphs is really something to behold, and I think that this is what really made The North Water stick in my head for all of those years. The talent that he has writing scenes, characters, settings, and plots  makes them unforgettable. 
Unforgettable writing needs to be paired with an unforgettable story. The Abstainer really has a great amount of ideas and a  pretty good plot, but I do not think that it really reinvents the wheel on a police department stopping gang activity novel. I could think of similar stories based on the same premise (the works of Caleb Carr, Richard Price, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane come to mind), but I did like the historical aspect and the execution. The Abstainer is a great historical police procedural that transports the reader to Manchester 1867, complete with mean streets, dirty sheets, and a blood for blood attitude.

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