Rad Recent Reads

Lola’s Picks

You know what’s great? Books not written by white people. So we’re sharing some recent reads so delicious you should definitely buy them and lick every page with your horny eyeballs. BIPOC voices are crushing it, and if it’s been a while since you waded off white author island, you really ought to dive in because the water is glorious.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemí Taboada is a Mexico City socialite sent to check on a sick cousin at High Place, a dilapidated Victorian mansion in the mountains, and the ancestral home of a once wealthy English family that owned the nearby silver mines. Soon Noemí finds her cousin has married into a family with secrets eating away at them much like the strange mould devouring the wallpaper, carpet, and draperies of High Place. At a loss for how to help her cousin or herself, Noemí’s dreams turn to dark horrors and every flicker of light leads her down yet another haunted corridor.

This book serves up mood and atmosphere big time, steadily dialling up the dread, violence, and desire. It’s Noemí, however, that keeps the story from tilling up the same gothic soil farmed over and over again by so many others. She’s spoiled and beautiful. Sharp and tenacious. Neither a damsel in distress nor a Strong Female Character perfectly executing roundhouse kicks. She’s a young woman still discovering who she is and what she stands for in a world controlled by men. She’s also frequently bored, and enjoys rubbing one out in the bathtub on occasion.

Between the ghosts, family tragedy, eugenics, mycology, feminism, and romance, Mexican Gothic lives up to the hype and leaves you with a lot to think about.

Catch the author on twitter @silviamg

5/5

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

This book isn’t horror, but it’s pretty fucking horrible, in the very best ways. I’ve got a stygian sense of humour, and damn if this novel doesn’t tickle my blackened funnybone.

It’s pre-911 NYC, and the unnamed narrator is tall, blonde, pretty, and above all, thin. An art history major, recently fired from her job at a shitty gallery. Her best friend Reva is sleeping with her boss and obsessed with her twin interests of “weekend plans” and pouring tequila into cans of diet Mountain Dew. She’s a wretched human, but she’s all the narrator has left. Both her parents are dead, and though they were objectively terrible people, she can’t bring herself to sell their house. She decides to sleep on it. For a full year. Sleep as much, and be awake as little, as possible. Her project requires that she seek out a goofy psychiatrist and manipulate her into prescribing ever increasing doses and varieties of tranquilizers, downers, sleeping pills. All taken with an OTC chaser of NyQuil, or Benadryl. In her passionate dedication to hibernation, she hopes to find a way to truly wake up.

This novel is so, so dark, and utterly hilarious. You’ll cringe, you’ll laugh, you’ll want to black out for three days and wake up on your couch wearing nothing but a Brazilian bikini wax and a mink coat with broccoli in the pockets.

5/5

Noggy’s Picks

I’ve had the good fortune to read not one, not two, but three fabulous cosmic horror novellas over the last number of weeks, and there are few things I love more than cosmic horror novellas. They hit the sweet spot. Long enough to tell a fleshed out story, short enough to devour in one or two jaw distending gulps without leaving you cramped and bloated. Which happens more frequently than you’d think – especially to hairless guinea pigs – but that’s a different horror entirely, one we totally don’t need to get into right now. Unless you want to? I’m here all night.

Anyways, on with the show.

All three of these are about the monsters within us, either figuratively or literally. In these cases, definitely leaning on the literal side.

Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

I’ll start with a two-fer, a pair of delightfully dark stories starting off Cassandra’s “Persons Non Grata” series (which I’m now impatiently waiting for more – so chop chop!). This is cosmic horror of the Lovecraftian persuasion, with just enough to anchor you to the mythos.

Hammers on Bone tells the story of a John Persons, a unique private eye cut right out of the detective classics. While there are the elements of that homage you’d expect, it’s just enough to give you a warm fuzzy and not make you roll your eyes and mumble “oh god….” John’s a monster who hunts monsters and the story is solid and excellent with a great hook: A ten-year-old kid hiring him to kill his step-dad. Wow. Not something you see every day.

A Song for Quiet is not a direct sequel, but shares the setting including John Persons in a cool supporting role. This story is a deeper one, more musical than pulpy. Lyrical. Deacon James is a bluesman haunted by a lot of things, including the music in his head that wants, and needs, to get out. Though that’s not a great thing. For him. Or everyone on the planet.

I adore the covers. Black and white and red. Powerful stark imagery. One of the things that drew me to them me when I saw people gushing on Twitter. Where you should definitely follow Cassandra at @casskhaw.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

I’m a slacker. I’ll come right and say it. I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, but somehow never did. Why? It kept popping up in my “this is your thing, why haven’t you read it yet,” list and yet… Yeah. Anyways, I did read it and I did love it. And now I have The Devil in Silver sitting on my table staring at me, taunting me. I’ll slack less with it. I promise.

The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook” through a substantially different lens. I read that original story way way back, and it comes up often as quintessential Lovecraft horribleness, so it was cool to see how Victor turned it on its head.

Tommy Tester aka Black Tom is an interesting fellow, a not so great musician, but with a knack for doing jobs and going into white neighborhoods where his fellows fear to tread. One of these jobs lands him in the sights of a the police and goes swiftly off trail from there. There are some great cosmic horror elements at play, with a spooky old lady that’s obviously way more than she seems, cryptic books, dark cults, a rich occultist, and powers beyond time and space.

I’d highly recommend it, especially for the rich setting and feel of 1920’s New York and the racial conflict which is as real today as it was then (which makes you realize how much HASN’T changed in a century).

Victor is also found on Twitter, at @victorlavalle, and is always worth listening to.

5/5 For the lot

Trace & Solomon: Torrington

Review by Noggy Splitfoot and Lola Silkysocks

Available at: AmazonAmazon CanadaKobo

Trace & Solomon: Torrington

Welcome to Torrington, Alberta. A wide spot in the blacktop, home to the world-famous Gopher Hole Museum above, and a massive convergence of mystical energy below. When a rogue exorcist acquires a soul translocating relic, the Vatican reluctantly – very reluctantly – turns to the only mercenaries capable of taking it back. The hard-drinking, double-crossing, catastrophe-courting mercenaries that sold it to him in the first place.

Trace and Solomon ought to know better. Church work is always a handshake with the Devil, but this time there’s more than money on the line, and it forces them to question what matters most. In this life, and the next.


Noggy Splitfoot: So, why are we interrupting my day drinking again?

Lola Silkysocks: It would be nice if you took our first paying gig seriously, and it’s 10am for Christ’s sake.

N: You got paid?

L: You didn’t? Nevermind. This is the part where we disclose that in exchange for unspecified remuneration, we are providing a fair and unbiased book review that doesn’t “violate community standards” whatever that means.

N: Okay, so it’s a grey market review. Fair and unbiased is overrated. I think I read that in a book, a philosophy book, or maybe it was a Wikipedia article. Everyone lies about these sorts of things. Objectivism is dead.

L: We’re reviewing a book, not objectivism. Focus.

Speaking of grey area, this is a long short story, or a short novella, or something in those murky waters. I can see why they self-published, not like anyone else would.

N: So, short enough to lack guts and long enough to get boring?

L: You can read it in half an hour is what I’m saying. That was probably my favourite part. 

N: Well, the cover has occult symbols and a beaver on it, so I’m thinking it’s about possessed nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodents.

L: Sigh…Noggy, did you read the book?

N: Well, I skimmed the introduction, which made absolutely zero sense, if that’s what you’re asking.

L: You disappoint me, Splitfoot.

N: Because I have better things to do? What are they even paying you? Twenty bucks?

L: No one here is proud. Go read. I’ll wait.

N: Fine. BRB

30 minutes later…

L: Nog?

3 days later…

N: Wow, what the hell did I just read? Not even one beaver.

L: Congratulations on finishing the equivalent of an I Can Read book.

N: Looks like Torrington is a real place. Like a prison for undead Richardson’s ground squirrels and other unwanted farm things.

L: The book is like From Dusk ‘til Dawn meets Little House on the Prairie, except Ma and Pa are evil Catholic clergy, the kids are rabid vermin, and Clooney and Tarantino are a trashy couple of grifters on a perpetual road trip in their shitty Winnebago.

N: The bar in the story didn’t have Salma Hayek. Or Machete.

L: Minus a star for that alone. But I like the idea of an evil ashtray that can capture your soul and funnel it into someone or something else

N: Sure, I guess. What kind of cigarettes would Jesus smoke do you think?

L: Had to have been weed. I mean, no one loves everyone, not that much. But back to the story. Did you find anything…familiar about these characters?

N: I guess Trace and Solomon are sort of like us, only Solomon is a lot older and uglier. Like who wears Hawaiian shirts, likes 80’s rock, and drives a 70’s era Winnebago? Not very relatable if you ask me.

L: Yes, he is 100% unlike you in every conceivable way, and Trace is way more dedicated than I am. That’s a lot of hassle just to get an ashtray back from an evil exorcist. I would have abandoned the quest and gone for tacos.

N: The quest is the whole point, dummy. The story is about Trace and Sol getting to Torrington. They need to gather wards and stuff so they can’t be soul swapped. You see a lot of what their relationship is like.

L: Yeah, about that. Why are they even together? They fight all the time and screw… everything up. They’re going to get each other killed sooner or later. Reminds me of the time we got drunk under a bridge skipping stones and you hit a duck.

N: I’m a hell of a lot luckier than Sol, that’s all I’m going to say about that! At least I didn’t try to catch a duckling for a pet. Trace though, she needs a pet something fierce.

L: A lady needs something fuzzy to cuddle in the night. Speaking of…that sex scene in the graveyard was kinda yikes.

N: Sol finally got to pet a beaver.

L: You mean he got attacked by a badger?

N: Right, that.

L: Why would you pet a beaver?

N: Beaver/Badger, point is these authors are sadistic perverts.

L: They do seem to have an axe to grind. Against the church, flightless birds, and humanity in general. Everyone in this story deserves to be ground into hog feed.

N: At least that feels real! So, what was your favourite part?

L: When the 50-foot gopher attacks downtown Torrington. That was badass.

N: Clem T. GoFur!

I liked the crossroads demon scene. I hope they market Carl plushies. They’d sell dozens, probably make a hell of a lot more than selling eBooks.

L: Yeah, like who is this book even for? I was expecting Christian Tentacle Romance and got this trash. An occult heist story loaded with violence and sex and blasphemy.

N: I don’t even know what genre this is supposed to be. Weird Crap? Probably shouldn’t give it a name. Names have power.

But since they’re sort of paying us, well you, I can’t say it’s bad. I’m also not going to say it’s good. Twenty bucks is worth two stars I guess.

L: -1 Flame. Took too long to arrive in the mail and didn’t look like the picture.

N: We’re doing flames, right, totally forgot about that. They go negative? I thought we reserved imaginary numbers for poets and astrophysicists?

L: Rock bottom is for quitters, and these two brought shovels.

N: I do see they labeled it as #1 in a series

L: One more than anyone asked for, so I guess I’ll close us out on that note of despair. And since I’ve got $20 burning a hole in my skirt, I say we go to Arby’s.


?/5

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

“AMAZING!” ~ slavish fan

“King at his best.” ~ slavish reviewer

“Loved! But the cover sucks.” ~ some dork from goodreads

Before you get mad, I’m not here to drag the King. I read almost everything he wrote up until 2010-ish. Needful Things, Pet Sematery, and Different Seasons are among some of my rare re-reads. I’m possibly the only person out there that really loved Duma Key. And King writes some of the greatest short stories and novellas out there. Apt Pupil is relentless horror on so many levels. The Road Virus Heads North is a master class in punishing suspense in the short form.

But he’s not incapable of mediocrity. Cell, anyone? He’s also a frequent idiot on Twitter, but whatever. Boomers gonna boom. Never meet your heroes. (Also, I haven’t read any of The Dark Tower books. Shut up, I don’t care.)

Now for the review! I picked up If It Bleeds because of the clever cover. I like animals all up in each other. It’s fun. Like the cat-rat version of turducken. Without the third thing. I don’t know what that would be. Maybe a fish or a lizard.

Now the review, for real this time. I was ready to settle into the comfy pair of slippers that is a Stephen King book and If It Bleeds did not disappoint. This book is very King-y. Four novellas containing all his greatest hits. Folksy olds. Poignant moments of loss. A child’s world existing just below the line of adult sight. And, of course, a struggling writer.

I’ll go through one at a time and give my thoughts.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone

A ghost story for the digital age. Young boy earns a few bucks each week reading the newspaper to a retired finance industry titan. Eventually the old man dies, but not before the boy teaches him how to use an iPhone. Life goes on, but in some ways stays rooted in place where it begins to sicken and rot. It’s a story about grief. In a sense, all the novellas in this collection are about grief, but Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the most explicit, and it sets the tone nicely. Also harkens back to the advent of the smart phone with a certain nostalgia and horror. This story felt the most fully realized of the four, but the novelty of tech doesn’t make it a novel King story. If an AI was programmed to generate Stephen King stories, this would be one of them.

The Life of Chuck

This one reads almost experimental, like a China Mieville novel. Told in three acts in reverse order, or from the inside out, or from the top down. I don’t know really. Chuck is born, he lives, he dies, and the world he carries within dies with him. I can’t say more than that without spoiling because this one isn’t a thriller chiller. It meanders, and does so delightfully. As a whole the story doesn’t quite take shape the way you sense King wants it to, but that’s why it’s my favourite of the four. It takes a risk and does something King doesn’t normally do. It surprised me.

If It Bleeds

You get the feeling the other stories are just blubber padding out the headliner. I didn’t read The Outsider. I hear it’s good. Maybe I should read it because this one was just okay for me. The premise is cool, a face shifting monster orchestrates a middle school bombing and Holly Gibney is on the case. This is what happens when an author loves his characters too much. This story is indulgent. King tries to get our hearts to bleed for Holly, but I didn’t feel it. She’s basically perfect with a few quirks. He loves her too much to give her actual flaws. It was a fun read, but nothing that resonated on the level I know King is capable of.

The Rat

I’m just going to say it. This story was some dumb shit. A recycled mish mash of Bag of Bones, 1408, and The Secret Window and probably any story where King is clearly writing some externalized version of himself. Writer is having trouble writing. Writer goes to cabin. Writer experiences a strange. Writer makes Bad Deal. Consequences. I kept waiting for King to subvert his own trope, but he doesn’t. If I had to guess, I’d say this was a trunk story he hauled out to meet a page count that would justify a $38 hardcover.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection, and with the exception of The Rat the stories were entertaining. The Life of Chuck was nearly brilliant, and I give King credit for taking that risk, considering the rest of the stories play it incredibly safe. Maybe the cover says it all? We’ve got the cat and mouse (or rat), which is clever if familiar. What’s missing is the third ingredient that surprises and makes the whole thing memorable. If It Bleeds is not bad, Constant Reader, but it’s no turducken.

3/5

Unnerving Magazine Issue #12 – Eddie Generous

All things change. Some frequently, some not, but it’s good to shake it up once and awhile, see where it takes you. With this latest issue, at the solid dozen mark, Unnerving Magazine does just that. Beyond dark tales of horror and accompanying non-fiction articles and commentary, we’re now blessed with a wide variety of shiny new toys including columns and comics and interviews and book reviews. Let’s dig in, shall we.

Danger’s Failed Film Pitches: This issue has not one, but two hilarious bites of pure, unadulterated Danger Slater giving us a peek at what really goes on in the world of A-List movie pitching. A gift, really, perfect bookends.

First Horror Features: Richard Chizmar, Cat Rambo and Daniel Kraus dish on their earliest horror memories. It’s always cool to see what formative influences authors have.

Too Stubborn to Quit: Eddie has a new column providing hard-learned wisdom on all things writing related – starting with cold story openings. If you want to know how to hook a submissions editor when they’re plowing through an enormous slush pile, this one’s for you.

Cancer and Creativity: A great interview with William Meikle about getting his life and writing jump started after a battle with cancer. William is one of my Rob’s go-to authors for supernatural detectives and cosmic horror, so it’s great to hear that William’s come out on top of it all.

Reviews: A solid collection of novel and anthology reviews including The Skin Factory by Lucas Pederson, which we’re definitely going to be picking up after reading about it.

Jacques: A mini-comic by Eddie and TovanSakura. Not going to spoil it, but it made us laugh.


And some great fiction, of course. Here are some two sentence thoughts:

“Here There be Spyders” by Graham Watkins

Sometimes you have to face your greatest fear. And undoubtably devour it.

“Circle of Lias” by Lawrence C. Connolly

 Is there anything sweeter than a honey-bun? A box of honey-buns!

“It Gets Blacker” by H. Pueyo

And very dark. And deep. An excellent short piece that doesn’t involve eating, but that’s okay.

“Black Brothel: Haunted Holes” by Renee Miller

Well, there’s something strange about Mary. And while ravenous, we’re no longer at all hungry.

 “A Friend in Paga” by Brent Michael Kelley

We’d kill, or worse, for a solid night’s sleep. How about you?


So all in all an excellent refresh, well worth picking up for an extremely reasonable few bucks a year. And while you’re at it, check out the Unnerving Podcast and Unnerving’s fiction offerings.

5/5

About the Editor: Eddie Generous

Eddie Generous is the author of many books, including Savage Beasts of the Arctic Circle, Rawr, Radio Run, Great Big Teeth, and Trouble at Camp Still Waters from Severed Press, Plantation Pan from Omnium Gatherum Books, and numerous story collections. He is the founder/editor/publisher/artist behind Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine, and the host of the Unnerving Podcast. He was born in Ontario, Canada and now lives on the Pacific Coast of Canada with his wife and their cat overlords.

In Dreams We Rot – Betty Rocksteady

Wow! I feel like I’m a little late to the party on this one, but you know what, the collection is timeless so no matter. I’d seen it bouncing around on social media of course, but it wasn’t until I was catching up on Ink Heist and caught the episode from last November where Betty was talking to Rich about Boy Meets World of all things, that I decided I’d wasted enough time, so I picked it up and dove in.

And yes, wow. I love my horror… well, horrible. As horrible as possible. Full of eye twitching sex and crowbar to the head violence and those little edges that make you feel like having a shower if you didn’t know something wasn’t waiting behind the curtain to siphon out your brain through a straw and fry up your liver without proper medical credentials. Nothing wrong with psychological horror of course, but you can’t beat worrying that the concrete corner you’ve wedged yourself into might not be as impenetrable as you thought. These stories deliver that and more. Weird fucked up dreams, weirder fucked up sex, copious amounts of blood and pretty much every sort of bodily fluid pooling around bits of furry chunks both real and imaginary.

Also, cats.

Cats, as any cat lover knows, are sinister. Alien. Predatorial. Biding their time while plotting world domination. And there’s a ton of cats in these stories. And bones. And art. Betty’s a fantastic artist and obviously had a lot of fun with it, though I’ll probably never look at elephants the same way ever again. So, pretty much perfect.

My favourites? I’m going to with These Beautiful Bones, where basement art takes on a sex life of its own, Root Rot where yeah, we’ve all had a bad hookup, but not THIS bad, Postpartum… having recently visited the Torrington Gopher Hole museum where they exhibit stuffed gophers in domestic environments I totally both get it and am scared shitless, and Larva, Pupa, Moth, where next time you think about scratching that itch, bring a hammer.

So if you haven’t picked it up, brave the quarantine apocalypse and hit your local indie bookstore, curl up under a monster proof blanket in front of a chimney searing fire with your cat, and prepare to be terrified.

5/5

About the Author: Betty Rocksteady

Betty Rocksteady writes cosmic sex horror, cat mythos, and surreal, claustrophobic nightmares.

Her debut novella Arachnophile was part of Eraserhead Press New Bizarro Author Series 2015. Like Jagged Teeth and The Writhing Skies were released by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. The Writhing Skies was voted Novella of the Year by This Is Horror Awards 2018.

Publisher: Trepidatio Publishing

The Haemophiliac by Tania Donald

The shortest month of the year is Women in Horror Month, and I’d rather not waste time inking out a list of scary ladies that’s mostly all the scary ladies you already know and are maybe dead (to all the horror bros proud of having read Shirley Jackson and Charlotte Gilman, I see you, here’s your cookie). Instead I’ll turn my tentacles to the ones doing amazing work not many people are talking about. Octoclot asks so little of you, so consider this humble request. Read Tania Donald. Do it now.

The protagonist of this historical gothic novella is the young and vulnerable Fraulein Klein. A seamstress desperate to turn her life around and climb out of the pit of poverty. Desperate enough to take job as a governess at a remote estate in the Black Forest. One year. For a suspiciously outsized sum. One year and she can afford to start her life over and take back the baby daughter she was forced to give up. In Fraulein Klein, Donald shows us a heroine battered by life but with enough steel in her to keep trying, for good or ill.

On arrival Klein is greeted by a haggard housekeeper who remarks on Klein’s scrawny appearance and immediately insists on feeding her, though not in a particularly kindly way. As Klein eats her first hot meal in an age, the housekeeper sets out the rules. She must remain in the child’s room at all times. She must eschew color, especially red. She must never ever allow the child to handle anything sharp, like a pin or a needle as she’s a hemophiliac, and the slightest prick will have her bleeding to death, the fate that befell her twin sister.

This novella is the epitome of a slow burn, punctuated with increasingly hot flare ups. What I particularly appreciated was the skill with which Donald developed the deep inner life of her protagonist. Complex characterization is so often lacking in the horror genre, especially in short stories and novellas, but Donald nails it. She also takes the time to develop those elements that make a story resonate past the final page. Things like theme, subtext, and symbolism, all through carefully chosen language and structure. The writing is sophisticated which elevates The Haemophiliac, in my unapologetically snobby opinion, to the level of literary horror.

Nothing is what it seems in this web of white lace nestled in the Black Forest. This is not the story of a sick child, but a story of what we carry in our blood, a legacy of betrayal and deception, the twin curse of lust and hunger. Traps of our own weaving. You are what you are, and no matter where you go you cannot escape yourself.

4/5