Review: Exploding Bears: A Savage Comedy by Frank J. Edler

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Buy here: Godless, Amazon

Synopsis:

Welcome to Wyld Louie’s Exploding Bears Experience where every hour, on the hour, you can witness one of Wyld Louie’s genuine, one-of-a-kind Exploding Bears blow up right before your very eyes! 

MARVEL at the awesome power of a bear detonating into thousands of pieces.

RELISH the opportunity to be impaled with fragments of an exploded bear carcass.

TASTE a genuine, strawberry-flavored, beaver butt at Wyld Louie’s Petting Zoo.

ENJOY the hospitality of Wyld Louie’s courteous and friendly staff.

CHERISH the memories you’ll leave with for a lifetime, including the bear claw impaled in your skull.

Spend the day at Wyld Louie’s Exploding Bear Experience and have a Dynamite Time!

Review:

When I think back to the experience of reading Exploding Bears: A Savage Comedy, I cannot help but hark back to all of the classic literature I have read in my life. Exploding Bears is almost the same length as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, with a main character, Wyld Louie, who has the same ambitions for success as the characters in The Great Gatsby. A Hemingway influence can be from blowing things up like in For Whom The Bells Toll (where it is bears instead of bridges), or maybe A Farewell to Arms. The biggest parallel to Frank J Elder’s book and classic literature is of course James Joyce. With Exploding Bears: A Savage Comedy we have a story told mostly in one day, like Ulysses, but there are also puns and invented language (particularly when the employees are doing mushrooms they found growing behind the outhouses) like in Finnigan’s Wake. Is Frank J. Elder the leader of a renaissance of literature, turning back the clock and reinventing all of those boring books by adding exploding bears and ass-licking characters? It is very possible.

Wyld Louie’s Exploding Bears Experience is started by a man with a dream. The dream is to watch bears explode and to make as much money as possible off of it. Throughout the day Wyld Louie runs into the normal rigors of owning a bear exploding theme park, but this is a day that will change Wyld Louie’s park and Wyld Louie himself by sunset. He entertains the crowds with exploding bears, but also a petting zoo where people line up to lick a beaver’s anus because it tastes like strawberries (which the truth is the goo that comes from a beaver’s anus tastes like vanilla and is sometimes used in artificial vanilla extract. Enjoy!) While the customers come in and out, Wyld Louie needs to keep the park stocked with bears to explode, all of the customers happy, and of course turn a profit. 


Part classic literature, part business study, part exploding fucking bears, the entire novella is fantastically funny and entertaining. I know Frank J Edler by listening to his podcast Bizzong! for the past couple of years. He ended the podcast in January to focus more on his family and his writing. If he is exchanging his podcast to write stories as good and funny as this, we can see it as a fair trade. I have made a few of my reading friends buy and read Exploding Bears: A Savage Comedy with me because this really is an experience that I could not keep to myself. If you have a few hours to spend reading, I recommend this much higher than Finnigan’s Wake.

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Review: The New Girls’ Patient by Ruthann Jagge

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Buy here: Godless, Amazon

Synopsis:

Jamie Carver is an inexperienced young woman eager to change her life. 

Recently certified in nursing, she’s the new girl working at a facility for the elderly.

When her favorite patient dies, the frail woman leaves her a handwritten recipe book as a final thank you.

Dark secrets of Elizabeth’s life hide between the pages.

Review:

Jamie Carver is a new nurse at the hospital. She connects with a patient that nobody else can get along with, and when this patient dies, she leaves Jamie a book of recipes. This is how Ruthann Jagge’s novelette starts. At the end, Jagge has taken us on a journey deep into a dark and brutal world where the monsters are the people, and nobody escapes without severe trauma.

The New Girls’ Patient is the first thing I have read by Ruthann Jagge, but since it is published by D&T Publishing, this is a must read. There are a few times when I look at the 41 page count and think about how there could have been some different ways to tell the story and development the relationships between the characters, but this is a small amount of space for a very big plot. With this juxtapose, there are a few times when the story turns into an info dump (the history of Elizabeth Cree and her husband and the explanation of the ruthlessness of Bart being two examples). I would have also loved a scene between Elizabeth and Jamie that expressed the relationship that they had. We come in when Jamie shows up for work and she is already dead and gone. 

The relationships between health care worker and patient is a real one. Sometimes patients are in the hospital for months at a time (especially since Covid first started), other times they are patients that are frequent flyers that get admitted for the same thing over and over again because they go home and neglect the things that they are supposed to do. There are patients the staff does not like, and of course the feelings can be mutual. But there is always one member of staff that clicks with the difficult patient and they do form a bond. When this type of patient passes away, there is a sense of loss for the whole hospital. Even if the patient was a pain in the ass to everyone, the staff always misses them and wishes they were there to harass them one more time. I have been working in direct patient care for almost ten years, and there are some patients that have passed on that I still think about and bring up to my coworkers. They leave an impression because we try so hard to help them, and the longer they are patients, the closer everyone becomes. This story makes me think about patient and caregiver relationships, and sometimes I hope I made as much of an impact on them as they did on me. Even though this idea does not run deep into this story, I like that this type of relationship is the catalyst for the rest of the novelette. 

This is another great release from D&T Publishing. The New Girls’ Patient is brutal, gory, and satisfying, and I hope to read more from Ruthann Jagge and this great press this year. 

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Review: CoDex 1962 by Sjon

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Buy it Here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Spanning eras, continents, and genres, CoDex 1962—twenty years in the making—is Sjón’s epic three-part masterpiece

Over the course of four dazzling novels translated into dozens of languages, Sjón has earned a global reputation as one of the world’s most interesting writers. But what the world has never been able to read is his great trilogy of novels, known collectively as CoDex 1962—now finally complete.

Josef Löwe, the narrator, was born in 1962—the same year, the same moment even, as Sjón. Josef’s story, however, stretches back decades in the form of Leo Löwe—a Jewish fugitive during World War II who has an affair with a maid in a German inn; together, they form a baby from a piece of clay. If the first volume is a love story, the second is a crime story: Löwe arrives in Iceland with the clay-baby inside a hatbox, only to be embroiled in a murder mystery—but by the end of the volume, his clay son has come to life. And in the final volume, set in present-day Reykjavík, Josef’s story becomes science fiction as he crosses paths with the outlandish CEO of a biotech company (based closely on reality) who brings the story of genetics and genesis full circle. But the future, according to Sjón, is not so dark as it seems.

In CoDex 1962, Sjón has woven ancient and modern material and folklore and cosmic myths into a singular masterpiece—encompassing genre fiction, theology, expressionist film, comic strips, fortean studies, genetics, and, of course, the rich tradition of Icelandic storytelling.

Review:

There are some novels that are so long and complex that they are hard to review. CoDex 1962, the novel that started the conversations about Icelandic author Sjon is one of those novels. CoDex 1962 started as three separate novellas that have been published into one complete volume, but the three novellas have enough continuity that it feels as if they were written at one time, even if they were published in 1994, 2001, and 2016. The three sections are also described as different types of story. Part one is a love story, part two is a crime story, and part three is a science fiction story. I can see that these genres exist, but they are more an impression of the genre than a very recognizable version. With all of the intertwining stories, genres, and styles, the tangents and wander paths, it is hard to paint a cohesive picture of the story without telling every single part of the story. 

The book is narrated by Josef Loewe, an animated clay figure that his father, Leo, carries him around in a hatbox until it is time for him to be born. The first two sections are narrated by Josef as he tells the story of his father. The first is his father leaving from Germany for Iceland, after being hidden in the walls of a boarding house. The second is how Leo gets his ring back after it is stolen from him during his boat ride from Germany to Iceland. The third is the story of Josef, about 1962, when Josef is born, and nuclear bombs that go off and mutate many of the kids born that year. Josef himself is being interviewed, as an adult by a company called CoDex, because he suffers from Stone Man Syndrome, where his soft tissue turns into bone. He narrates his life through stories, folklore, and distractions that makes me realize that he had been narrating the entire book, but it was only in the end that this is revealed. 

There are so many themes in this novel, and there is so much depth in the writing and storytelling that a reader could read this multiple times without understanding everything. It feels like nothing is off limits, and there are even a few times when Sjon shows up in the third part as himself. The last section, where CoDex and the geneticist who is in charge of oral histories recorded by the company, is about Josef, but it is also about 1962 and how there have been so many people die already from that year. There is a sense of dread from Sjon (who was also born that year) that time is running out. 

This whole novel is ambitious and surreal. There are times when it is confusing, times when it does make any sense, times when it rambles for pages in the wrong direction, times when it tackles huge topics like immigration, anti-Semitism, the end of the world, werewolves, golems, and of course, stamp collecting. Compared to his latest novel, Red Milk, these two books do not even seem to be written by the same author. Red Milk is the antithesis of this novel. CoDex 1962 is not easy to read or easy to keep track of (fortunately there is an entire recap of the plot at one point in the last 100 pages) but it is impossible to not find this an impressive feat. 

Sjon’s works are great, and he is always trying to do new things with his writings. CoDex1962 is a tough novel, but it is worth the effort. If you are just curious about Sjon’s writing though, I would suggest picking up one of his shorter works before tackling this opus.

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Review: Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley

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Tentative Release Date: June 7, 2022

Pre-order Here: Publisher Website, Bookshop, Amazon

Synopsis:

Cult Classic is a comic mystery about love, memory, and mind control from New York Times-bestselling author and two-time Thurber Prize finalist Sloane Crosley.

One idle weeknight in New York’s Chinatown, our heroine is at a reunion dinner with her former colleagues when she ducks out to buy cigarettes. On the way back, she runs into a former boyfriend. And then another. And…another. Nothing is quite what it seems as the city becomes awash with ghosts of heartbreaks past. What would normally pass for coincidence becomes something far stranger as Lola must contend not only with the viability of her current relationship but the fact that both her best friend and former boss, a magazine editor-turned-mystical-guru, might have an acutely unhealthy investment in the outcome. Memories of the past swirl and converge in ways both comic and eerie, as Lola is forced to decide if she will buy into the tenets of romantic love, change who she is to do it and surrender herself to one very contemporary cult.

Both suspenseful and delightfully funny, this new novel from Sloane Crosley combines the breathtaking twists and turns of a psychological thriller with the will-she-won’t-she of a romantic comedy. Cult Classic is an original: a masterfully crafted, surrealist meditation on love in an age when the past is ever at your fingertips and sanity is for sale. With her gimlet eye, Crosley spins a wry romantic fantasy that is equal parts page-turner and poignant portrayal of alienation.

Review:

Sloane Crosley has made a name for herself with three books of essays and one novel. Cult Classic is her second novel, and it centers around Lola, a woman who is engaged to be married, has lived and dated in New York for years, and is starting to run into all of her ex-boyfriends for some reason. One random ex is weird, two is a coincidence, but the third random ex-boyfriend makes her start thinking something might be going on. And of course she is right. Her best friend and ex-boss turned TV guru, whom she worked for at a now defunct magazine, Modern Psychology, have a vested interest in Lola running into these ex-boyfriends and how it affects her. 

Lola has dated many men for short periods of time. With every breakup, even amicable, there are feelings that are usually left unresolved. They stay unresolved but they also shape the way a person continues with new romances. When confronted with these people, does Lola feel a sense of healing and closure for all of the wounds that never fully heal? The idea is that every relationship, no matter how long or short, changes the person, and that love is all we seek and the biggest motivator. Lola is being asked the question of whether closure of previous relationships will make her current one stronger. 

Sloane Crosley’s writing is easy and funny and the novel moves at a quick pace. She is known for her humorous essays, especially the collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, so her humor shines, especially in the character of Lola. As the novel progresses, I like the Lola more and more, especially her dialogue and the way that she interacts with those around her. I like Lola better than the story. I know the ideas behind Cult Classic are kind of interesting, the structure and the story itself is a bit dull. Some of the choices for scenes and structure that Crosley makes seem to drag down the pace of the story. The biggest example of this is that after the first big reveal about what is happening to Lola, the next chapter is about Lola and Boots, her fiancé, going to a wedding out of the city. Crosley has the story right where it needs to be but then immediately removes the characters with a chapter that has very little bearing on the rest of the novel. We are then reintroduced to the things happening between Lola and her random ex sightings. There are a few smaller instances that do the same thing. There are a more than one moment when Crosley takes us out of the story with a chapter or even scene that is irrelevant. which makes her job harder because she has to reel us back into the plot. Even though Crosley has written a great character with some very funny dialogue and a book with an interesting concept, there are choices that she makes with storytelling and structure that make portions of this novel fall flat.

I am not one that looks up the artists of book covers very often, but June Park, the artist, deserves some attention. This could be the best cover of the decade.

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

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Review: Red Milk by Sjon

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Buy it Here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A timely and provocative novel about a mysterious Icelandic neo-Nazi and the enduring global allure of fascism.



In England in 1962, an Icelandic man is found dead on a train bound for Cheltenham Spa. In his possession, policemen find a map on which a swastika has been drawn with a red pen. Who was he, and where was he going?

In a novel that reads as both biography and mystery, the internationally celebrated novelist Sjón tells the story of Gunnar Kampen, the founder of Iceland’s anti-Semitic nationalist party, with ties to a burgeoning network of neo-Nazi groups across the globe. Told in a series of scenes and letters spanning Kampen’s lifetime–from his childhood in Reyjavík during the Second World War, in a household strongly opposed to Hitler and his views, through his education, political radicalization, and his final clandestine mission to England–Red Milk urges readers to confront the international legacy of twentieth-century fascism and the often unknowable forces that drive some people to extremism.

Based on one of the ringleaders of a little-known neo-Nazi group that operated in Reykjavík in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this taut and potent novel explores what shapes a young man and the enduring, disturbing allure of Nazi ideology. 

Review:

In Red Milk, Sjon’s newest work to be translated into English by Victoria Cribb, Sjon tells the fictionalized biography of the founder of the Icelandic pro-Nazi Nationalist party. Gunnar Kampen, the founder of the anti-Semetic party, is found dead on a train. As the story unfolds, going back from his childhood and his father listening to the radio during the Nazi invasion to the time right before he steps on the train, the mystery of his death unfolds.

The style Sjon uses is a straight, reporting style, and this is done on purpose. He does not want to delve too deep into the mind of Kampen. There is no inner dialogue, no long passages on why he feels the way he feels about Jews, and the only real moments that show Kampen’s firm beliefs is in some of his letters written to famous nationalists from around the world. Sjon purposefully does not let us get too close to this character, making sure that we are always a step away from the thought process of Kampen and his associates. This is off-putting for readers who are used to getting involved with characters. I do not think that he does this to protect the reader as much as to protect himself. The thought of writing long passages of racism and delving into the Nationalist movement too much would turn the story into one he did not want to tell. Instead we get the story at arms length, where we are being told the story but not being immersed in it. This is very purposeful. 

Sjon’s telling of the story of Gunnar Kampen has an underlying theme. Gunnar Kampen is a person trying to find relevance as a anti-Semetic leader, a founder of a neo-Nazi group, and someone of importance in the European movement of the time. But Kampen also lives in Iceland. From World War II to the time of Kampen’s death, the population of the entire country of Iceland grew from 132,000 to 170,000 people. Anyone who immigrated to Iceland had to take on an Icelandic name, and at one point in the book, Kampen is given a list of all of the Jews in Reykjavik, the capital, a list of 36 names. Kampen has staked his entire identity on being antt-semetic and pro-nationalist, an entire identity built on hating an insignificant number of the immigrant population. His desire to be important outweighs his importance. He knows the European nationalist movement does not need him, but he tries his best to insert himself into the conversation. He yearns to be a major part of the movement, even up until his death. The way that Sjon writes him, his significance is not really found.

This is a book that can be read comfortably in one sitting, and there are many things about Sjon’s work that I really find interesting. The way that he structures and tells stories makes for fun reading, even if there are times when the subject might not be the most enticing. I know I’m not too interested in the history of the neo-Nazi movement in Iceland, but I still enjoyed this novel. I will continue to read whatever Sjon releases.

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

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Review: Master of Reality (33 1/3 series) by John Darnielle

Master of Reality

Buy Here: Bloomsbury, Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

John Darnielle hears [Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality] through the ears of Roger Painter, a young adult locked in a southern California adolescent psychiatric center in 1985; deprived of his Walkman and hungry for comfort, he explains Black Sabbath as one might describe air to a fish, or love to an android, hoping to convince his captors to give him back his tapes.

Review:

Most of the 33 ⅓ books focus on the production and reaction to the albums that they cover. All of them are interesting in the aspect that you are learning about the artist, the influences of the songs, and the way the world was either changed by the songs or the songs were changed by the world. Then you have John Darnielle analysis of Master of Reality by Black Sabbath . John Darnielle is the lead songwriter for The Mountain Goats (actually starting the Mountain Goats as just him with a guitar and songs written after his shifts as a psychiatric ward nurse), and he takes Master of Reality as the main subject of a fictional tale. The book is from completely left field, the John Darnielle way.

John Darnielle’s 33 ⅓ book is about Roger Painter, a kid who is locked up for observation at a psychiatric center. He thinks the thing that will really help him, more than drugs or therapy iso listen to his Walkman and his tapes, particularly his cassette copy of Master of Reality. This is Black Sabbath’s third album, and it is the one that really speaks to Roger, with it’s themes of Heaven and Hell, Jesus versus the Devil and the opening track, “Sweet Leaf” being a silly song about weed. Instead of getting into the deeper aspects of the album, Darnielle uses instinct and feelings, particularly the feelings that Master of Reality and Black Sabbath brings to Roger. Black Sabbath’s music and Roger are kindred spirits, and the music is telling him that life is filled with disappointment and darkness, but it’s okay because we are all in the same boat. 

There are a few things that stick out about Darnielle’s work as the Mountain Goats and the way that he writes about Black Sabbath. One of them is that Ozzy Osborne can’t sing very well, actually comparing it to a weed whacker, and him to a guy who makes change at a video game arcade. Even though he does not sing very well, Ozzy’s singing is unique. It makes you feel like they are a band of people that you know, and in the end, this is what makes Black Sabbath special.

He writes:

So we look up to Black Sabbath–or what we remember of them in my case. Even after we’re grown up, we do. Always. Because looking at Black Sabbath–at their album covers, at their handmade costumes, at their lyrics sheets, at the dumb faces they make in their videos now–we can see people like us. It’s nice….Maybe every other band in the world has more brains and deeper meaning, but only Black Sabbath sounds exactly like what my friends and I might have done if we had the equipment. (p. 81). 

This makes me think about the Mountain Goats and the trajectory of the band. Darnielle started working as a nurse, surviving abuse and drug use, and thinking that he could be in a band if he just had the equipment. He wrote and recorded the first Mountain Goats albums after his shifts. I do not know how much Black Sabbath influenced his starting to write and record albums, but I do feel like his attitude toward them, like this is a band he could have formed with his friends, gave him some confidence to make the music he has made. 

I love the 33 ⅓ books, and I know that some people do not like that this is such a departure from the series, but I would like to read more of them where the writer talks more about the feeling of the music with a fictional structure than that album statistics and production notes. 

This is a video of Black Sabbath playing “Children of the Grave” in 1974, and it fully illustrates the points that John Darnielle makes in his analysis. 

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Review: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

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Buy it here: Signed Copies from author, Bookshop,

Synopsis:

In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Driven insane by his torture at the Company, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers like Rachel.

At first, Borne looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. The Company, although severely damaged, is rumoured to still make creatures and send them to distant places that have not yet suffered Collapse.

Borne somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick, not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she cannot break that bond.

Wick is a special kind of supplier, because the drug dealers in the city don’t sell the usual things. They sell tiny creatures that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and that release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.

Against his better judgment, out of affection for Rachel or perhaps some other impulse, Wick respects her decision. Rachel, meanwhile, despite her loyalty to Wick, knows he has kept secrets from her. Searching his apartment, she finds a burnt, unreadable journal titled “Mord,” a cryptic reference to the Magician (a rival drug dealer) and evidence that Wick has planned the layout of the Balcony Cliffs to match the blueprint of the Company building. What is he hiding? Why won’t he tell her about what happened when he worked for the Company?

Review:

I reread Borne by Jeff VanderMeer this week, and I realize that I never wrote a review the first time. I have some fresh thoughts on it, especially since I have read other VanderMeer novels between reads. The basic concept that continues to come up in review of Borne is that it is such a weird book. Rachel and Wick live in an abandoned apartment complex in a city with no name. In the shadows of the city are scavengers, biotech animals, altered kids, and a huge kaiju bear named Mord who is seen as an object to worship by some but an animal to fear by others. All of this has happened under the gaze of The Company, a biotech firm that came to the city, made a bunch of mistakes that they literally threw out the window into a wasteland, and eventually folded. These mistakes live on. Rachel finds a little blob that in the beginning looks like a sea urchin or a vase, depending on how he looks. She names him Borne. Borne grows and grows, and while he is young, he wants to learn things, but after a short period of time, he wants his independence. All of this is mistrusted by Wick and eventually by Rachel as well.

It is simple to call this a weird book and just write it off. There are many things in Borne that are consistent, like the paranoia of Wick and Rachel in a world where nothing is safe. Not only do they have to deal with scavengers and looters, an economy that does not exist beyond bartering for goods, and being hungry and thirsty all of the time, they also have a huge bear flying through the air and destroying things. This constant anxiety and worry makes it easy for Rachel to invite Borne into their little family, even though she does not know where he came from or why he is here. She just knows she has found something to enjoy in a grueling, troublesome life, even if it is no good for her.

VanderMeer thinks a great deal about the world, about humans and cities and how they effect nature and animals. Humans versus nature is a consistent theme in his works, and the world that he builds in Borne is nearly post-human but with the wreckage that humans have left. There is more mention of other animals, plants, water, and nature reclaiming the city (including a huge flying bear) than other humans. Unfortunately with this reclamation of the city with no name by nature, the humans, particularly the Company, have left a huge stamp on everything, regardless of how long ago the Company left, a stamp that will never disappear completely. 

I love Jeff VanderMeer and his writing. I powered through this novel in two days, and by the end, I was just as exhausted as the characters. There are always so many things about the way VanderMeer constructs his worlds that he leaves you with a headful of thoughts. This fits firmly in his growing canon of novels about the ecosystems and humans needing to work harder to preserve them.

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Review: Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin

Manhunt

Out February 22. Preorder here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Y: The Last Man meets The Girl With All the Gifts in Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt, an explosive post-apocalyptic novel that follows trans women and men on a grotesque journey of survival.

Beth and Fran spend their days traveling the ravaged New England coast, hunting feral men and harvesting their organs in a gruesome effort to ensure they’ll never face the same fate.

Robbie lives by his gun and one hard-learned motto: other people aren’t safe.

After a brutal accident entwines the three of them, this found family of survivors must navigate murderous TERFs, a sociopathic billionaire bunker brat, and awkward relationship dynamics―all while outrunning packs of feral men, and their own demons.

Manhunt is a timely, powerful response to every gender-based apocalypse story that failed to consider the existence of transgender and non-binary people, from a powerful new voice in horror.

Review:

Manhunt starts with a great premise. A virus has infected anyone with testosterone and turns them into murderous, feral zombies. They live in the woods, run in packs, and eat anything they can get their hands on. Fran and Beth, two women who have been friends before their transition, are hunting these men to harvest their adrenal glands and testicles to continue to have the estrogen to keep from turning into one of these monsters themselves. Since all of the men were now animals, women have taken over everything. This includes the TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), who are organized and ruthlessly killing the transwomen of the world. Fran and Beth’s story starts and ends with them just trying to survive in a world where they do not feel welcomed.

It took me a while to connect with these characters. mostly because part one is action with very little character development. Beth and Fran are thrown into the middle of a zombie and TERF attack that does not give them time to breathe. This anxiety is passed along to the reader because the danger and action is nonstop. The second part is when we really start to understand the characters. The book switches stories between Beth, Fran, Robbie, a trans man they find in the woods, and some new characters that are introduced as major secondary characters. Even though there is more character building than world building the the second part, the novel does not feel like it slows down at all. There is still plenty of action, gore, and a large amount of sex. By the time part three starts, we are fully invested in the story and the brewing fight between the TERFs, who are trying to be a new government, and the women who will do anything to fight against their anti-trans ideals. By the time the final showdown starts, with even more action than the first part, we are so attached to the story and the characters that we are totally invested. The final part is brutal, gory, and very much worth the effort it takes to get there.

I am not really the target audience for Manhunt. In fact if I was a character in the novel, I would be one of the feral men eating raw meat and killing any woman or animal that I see. This is okay. I keep thinking about how there are some horror-loving trans kids who need representation, and having two trans women and a trans man as the heroes of a story will honestly make this a LGBTQ+ horror classic. There is a movement in horror to “Make Horror Gay AF” and I fully support stories like these to show that horror is a genre that can be inclusive and for everyone. This is another reason to love Manhunt, just as much as the greatness of the story. The world Gretchen Felker-Martin builds is strong, dangerous, and very unique. I cannot wait to read what Felker-Martin has in store for us next. 

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

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Review: Malinae by Josh Schlossberg

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Buy here: Godless.com, Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

The absentmindedness. The nonsensical ramblings. The blank stares. Ward Ayers, physically disabled and confined to his Jersey Shore home, can only watch in dismay as his beloved wife Malina slips further and further into dementia.

But when Ward catches a glimpse of a strange appendage in place of Malina’s tongue, he fears the woman he’s loved for half a century isn’t succumbing to Alzheimer’s but transforming into something…not quite human. As he tries to make sense of his wife’s disturbing changes, he starts wondering if he’s the one losing his mind.

Until, finally, Ward uncovers the dark force behind Malina’s decline and must plumb the depths of sacrifice and selfishness to reclaim his wife and preserve humanity’s future.

Review:

Horror used to happen mostly to kids. Whether it be teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake or in Derry, Maine, a large majority of horror stories and films are about teenagers. Lately there has been a gathering trend in horror of stories that involves the elderly as the victims and heroes. I am all for it. I love these stories. When I heard the advertisements for Malinae by Josh Schlossberg, I knew it was a must read.

Malinae is about Walt Ayers and his wife, Malina, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Walt is also eighty-six, and his body is not in the best shape anymore. He still spends his days keeping his mind active with an adult coloring book and a steady stream of caregivers that take care of the two of them. One of the caregivers, Celeste, displays some behavior that raises suspicions within Walt, that she is doing some things with Malina that just does not seem right. This makes Walt start to do some sleuthing, and when Walt discovers some weird things going on with his wife and her connection to Celeste, he tries to stop her before it gets out of hand. Of course it gets out of hand.

This is another short novella that does a great amount in a small space. Even though it is not very long, the story is well developed and suspenseful. There are a few times when a large amount of action and plot moves in one page, and then it settles down again to a slower, more suspenseful speed. I like the characters, even though Walt is someone who would irritate me in real life. He is written in a way that makes him seem very demanding to her caretakers and the people around him; he is always ordering people to do things but not acting very appreciative of their help. I know that his caregivers are being paid for their services, it does not seem like Walt is very thankful for the help he receives.

As someone who does direct patient care in hospitals, I can see these two characters because I have taken care of both of them several times. Maybe this is why I enjoy horror stories with elderly characters. Not only do I like that there is a different set of life experiences and thus decision making skills, I also feel like I relate more to the older population than youth these days. Everyone in this novella, especially Walt and Malina, seem very real to me. The writing and storytelling is spot on. 
I really enjoyed Malinae, and the big question that I asked myself while reading it. Is the character going through this because of medical issues or because of outside influences? Trying to figure this out makes a story to admire and recommend.

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Review: The Removed by Brandon Hobson

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Buy it here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Steeped in Cherokee myths and history, a novel about a fractured family reckoning with the tragic death of their son long ago—from National Book Award finalist Brandon Hobson

In the fifteen years since their teenage son, Ray-Ray, was killed in a police shooting, the Echota family has been suspended in private grief. The mother, Maria, increasingly struggles to manage the onset of Alzheimer’s in her husband, Ernest. Their adult daughter, Sonja, leads a life of solitude, punctuated only by spells of dizzying romantic obsession. And their son, Edgar, fled home long ago, turning to drugs to mute his feelings of alienation.

With the family’s annual bonfire approaching—an occasion marking both the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death, and a rare moment in which they openly talk about his memory—Maria attempts to call the family together from their physical and emotional distances once more. But as the bonfire draws near, each of them feels a strange blurring of the boundary between normal life and the spirit world. Maria and Ernest take in a foster child who seems to almost miraculously keep Ernest’s mental fog at bay. Sonja becomes dangerously fixated on a man named Vin, despite—or perhaps because of—his ties to tragedy in her lifetime and lifetimes before. And in the wake of a suicide attempt, Edgar finds himself in the mysterious Darkening Land: a place between the living and the dead, where old atrocities echo.

Drawing deeply on Cherokee folklore, The Removed seamlessly blends the real and spiritual to excavate the deep reverberations of trauma—a meditation on family, grief, home, and the power of stories on both a personal and ancestral level.

Review:

The Removed centers around tragedy, loss, grief, and the horrible things people to to one another. The Echota family has splintered over the years. Maria is trying to help the community while taking care of her husband who is slowly slipping into the throes of Alzheimer’s, her son Edgar is an addict who has not talked to them after an intervention, her daughter lives down the road and has been following the man who happens to be the son of the police officer who shot and killed her brother Ray-Ray fifteen years ago. Every year the family gathers to have a bonfire in honor of Ray-Ray’s death, but this year, based on how disconnected everyone is, it might not happen.

Filled with Cherokee folklore and tradition, The Removed is a sad, tragic, and gorgeous book. At first, I did not know what to think of it because I really was not connecting with the characters and the story. This started like so many other books about a tragedy happening to a family and we get to see the grief that never goes away. When Wyatt, a boy that Maria and Ernest are giving a temporary foster home for a few days while waiting for a family court hearing, things start to change and come clear. The book is about grief but it is also about the afterlife, spirits guiding you through life based on Cherokee myths, some true and some imagined. The whole novel becomes a spiritual journey for all of the characters. A few of the things start to make more sense. Wyatt’s positive connection to everyone is because he is more that what he seems. Edgar living with a “friend” Jackson in a place that is gray and desolate, a town filled with people who were drug addicts until they got here, might be a town in which everyone has overdosed. In some parts the vagueness lets us draw our own conclusions, but we are strongly guided by the narrative, and by Tsala, the final character in this family, the guide who died during the Trail of Tears but is still trying to help his people. 

The novel becomes more interesting and gorgeous as it goes. I love the ideas that The Removed brings, and there are some parts that are gripping and heartbreaking. There are other parts that really don’t do as well. The Sonja story kind of peters out toward the end, and I think her story is the weakest and the least tied into the rest of the things the family is going through. Overall, I like the family, I like the story, I like the Cherokee myths. I like the blurring between life and the afterlife, present and past, because there are not many differences between the two.

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