Not everything I read is a good fit for the HFR, for various reasons … sometimes it’s not technically horror, sometimes it’s a novella or short, sometimes the HFR has already covered a book by the time I get to it. When that happens, I still want the world to know what I think because I’m megalomaniacal that way, so, I bring them here!
Up this week: On the Bricks by Penni Jones, and The Head by Brian Barr!
Title: On the Bricks
Author: Penni Jones
Publisher: Pandamoon Publishing
I don’t know if “gritty chick-lit” is a thing, or if this would be it if it was, but if it isn’t it should be, and that’s the phrase my mind kept wanting to call it. Because it certainly isn’t your usual yuppie or sassy sex in the city gets her groove back kind of thing … the main character here just finished a ten-stretch for murder, and moves in with her struggling rehab sister who runs a halfway house for juvies, prosties, druggies, and abused women.
But, by similar token, neither is it the hurr-hurr women’s prison cell block hot mamas 70s-style ‘sploitation all for the titillation of the guys. Having still not seen that OitnB show, I can’t say for comparison there, but if the show is tonewise like this book, I should bump it up on my list.
Anyway! Our protagonist, Cass, finally gets parole after serving her time for the murder of her then-boyfriend’s ex-wife. A murder she didn’t commit, but somehow got swept along into taking the fall for. All of a sudden, she’s leaving her cellmate (best friend and more), going back to the real world. Back to a small part of the real world, where plenty of people know her and remember. Not far from where her now-remarried former boyfriend, and the kids Cass had hoped to adopt, still live.
The smart thing to do would be to keep her head down, let the past go, and get on with her life. But it seems fate, with a cruel sense of humor, keeps throwing twists and obstacles in the way. The biggie is that her father left her a big chunk of money, on the condition she prove her innocence.
Gee, thanks Dad. She could really use that inheritance, not least of all to help save the halfway house from foreclosure. How’s she supposed to prove her innocence NOW, when she couldn’t a decade ago? When the people with information are far from inclined to help? When some, in fact, are inclined to stop her nosing around by whatever methods necessary?
Meanwhile, there’s her libido to consider, a problem further impacted by a hunky parole officer and some chance run-ins with her old flame. And there’s her struggles getting along on the outside, where prison social skills don’t go over so well … there’s added responsibility when her sister backslides into bad habits …
Most of all, what this book really does well is depict just how damn complex, complicated, mercurial, contradictory, and convoluted relationships between women can be. How love and hate, contempt and admiration, being willing to go to the mat for someone while also wanting to claw her eyes out, how all these can exist simultaneously.
It’s a solid good read, gripping, well-written, believable even in its moments of incredible frustration (when other characters know stuff, and Cass KNOWS they know stuff, and can’t just grab them and shake until truth-words fall out). Thumbs up, would certainly read more from this author!
Title: The Head
Author: Brian Barr
This one’s a short story all out in the big world on its own, the whimsical adventure of a lady who finds a severed head in the yard … wait, what? Yes, that. A severed head, but it gets weirder. The head is alive, the head can talk, the head belongs to a very nice seeming guy named Bill.
In a sense, it’s a fairy tale; there are elements here of The Frog Prince and of Bluebeard, but through a warped kaleidoscope lens. Whimsical adventure, yes. Love story, even, because once Elizabeth takes Bill’s head home and they chat and talk, well, hey, romance can happen in unconventional ways.
The thing is, though, Bill would rather have their romance happen in somewhat more conventional ways, ways involving the rest of his actual body. That’s where the adventure comes in, the classic fairy tale quest. It may not be a looming castle in the dark wood, it may be a rundown old house at the end of a dirt road, but the effect is much the same.
And, like many fairy tales used to be back in the good old days, that happily-ever-after doesn’t always work out so well for all concerned.
My only problem was a minor matter of copy-edit type nits, homonyms and such that slipped through. But, all in all, an entertaining and fun messed-up little bedtime story!
And don’t forget, you can always find more of what I think over at The Horror Fiction Review!