For this month, I take looks at Michelle von Eschen’s Old Farmhouses of the North; A Puppet Scorned by Jamie Kort; Matthew Quinn’s Little People, Big Guns; The God Provides by Thomas R. Clark; and Bridgett Nelson’s A Bouquet of Viscera.
Title: Old Farmhouses of the North
Author: Michelle von Eschen
Publisher: WtD Books
Is post-apocalypse gothic a thing? If it’s not, it should be … or maybe it is now … because that’s the phrase that tolled in the back of my mind while reading this book. A lonely, desolate, cold, dusty, windswept, atmospheric moodiness permeates all the linked stories herein, providing a backdrop suggesting a world of ruins and hopelessness, within which even worse things happen on a smaller, personal scale.
It opens with the title tale, in which a couple are heading through a forsaken landscape of blighted farms and abandoned farmhouses, and the driver’s ideas of how a man should take care of his woman play out in some less than romantic ways.
Next up is “What To Expect While You’re Expecting,” my favorite of the bunch, invasive and disturbing pregnancy horror escalating well past the point of no return.
“The Bug House” is a take on the classic kids’-rite-of-passage tale, when an adult comes home and has to remember and confront the truth of what happened to his friend.
“Butcher and Shaw” brings in a nightmarish supernatural/religious tone, as a pair of gravediggers tasked with delivering unborn babies from dead mothers speculate on the purpose of their trade.
“Clove Hitch” cranks up the dystopian side of things; in a society where state-sanctioned suicide has become commonplace, a man who hasn’t told his wife his plans is in for a bad surprise.
In “Nancy Gone Wild,” a young woman from a strict upbringing is eager to get her first taste of freedom despite her parents’ concerns what might happen to her out in the hedonistic real world, but none of them are ready for the changes she undergoes.
“Noche Obscura” is my second-fave, a purgatorial nightmarish piece, reminiscent of a dream just half-lucid enough to be aware of its hellish inescapability.
“Because Father Is Dying” hits those midwesterny apocalypse gothic notes strong again, heavy with the burdens of hard work and hopelessness and tradition.
“Firesick” then pushes that aesthetic to the next level, as if Little House on the Prairie had been written by Cormac McCarthy, leaving tragedy and loss and regret in its ashes.
Wrapping it up is the fittingly-titled “Last Call,” wherein an aspiring actress goes to great lengths to reinvent herself, getting all the attention she wanted and then some.
Title: A Puppet Scorned
Author: Jamie Kort
Let it never be said there’s not something to this whole social media thing … there I was, scrolling Twitter, when I saw a post from someone lamenting they hadn’t been sent a review request for “the sock puppet erotic horror book,” while other reviewers who had received the request were expressing reactions ranging from “yeah nope” to “I’d rather gouge out my eyes with a melon baller,” and I think to myself, “hey wait, didn’t I just get that review request too?”
Sure enough, I had, and after a couple of entertaining online exchanges with the author and other reviewers, I decided, “okay, why the heck not?” Sure wasn’t as if I haven’t read, reviewed, and even written my share of freakyweird (bleep). So I responded I’d give it a whirl. The author sent it. I opened it to take a peek and see what I’d gotten myself into.
And my plans for the rest of the day went right out the window because I ended up reading the whole thing then and there. Whatever I might have been expecting — and, I admit, I was expecting something along the lines of dirty muppet pr0n — THIS WAS NOT IT. This was good, clever, well-written, brilliantly imagined, and totally bizarro bonkers in all the best ways.
It’s the story of Camille, a lovely polka-dotted sock puppet, swept into a passionate romance with handsome striped sock puppet Brad. It is indeed sock puppet erotica, with knitting needles and stitches and unraveling yarn made sexyhot in ways that’d give sweet little old crocheting grannies heart palpitations.
But, let us not forget, it was also billed as erotic ‘horror,’ and the horror kicks in with just as much adroit WTF-ery as the rest. Brad and Camille find their actions have consequences, consequences Brad is in no way prepared to deal with, leaving Camille the puppet scorned of the title. Nor is she about to just forgive and forget. She wants her revenge, and she’s going to get it.
For real, folks, this is one of the most delightfully twisted surprise reads I’ve had in a while. I’m so glad I decided to try it instead of noping out sight unseen, and I encourage all those other reviewers to reconsider, because they are missing a real treat!
Title: Little People, Big Guns
Author: Matthew Quinn
Publisher: Deadite Press
If the very fact, title, and nature of this book gives you the ableist-guilt discomfort cringies, well, brace yourself, because yep, it goes there. It’s got ‘dwarf-tossing’ in the prologue’s opening paragraph. It unflinchingly, unapologetically, rub-your-nose-in-it goes there.
The members of the McTavish Little Persons Association consisted of five members, before one of their own meets a bad end in the woods while walking home from a redneck bar after a profitable evening of the aforementioned dwarf-tossing. The rest of them decide something should be done in honor of their lost friend, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
James, the Association’s president, tries with letters and in-person meetings, but the authorities are less than impressed with their cause and don’t seem inclined to be very helpful. So, they decide to take matters into their own hands. They’ll arm up and go hunting, as much in preemptive self-defense as for revenge.
Teaming up with a couple of the dwarf-tossing rednecks from the bar, they venture into the woods. Some violent mayhem ensues, and before long, die-hard activists from the Coalition for Radical Animal Protection get involved.
Because, see, there’s these badgers in the woods, and as far as the activists are concerned, badger lives matter … much more than human lives, let alone little person lives. The situation quickly escalates to include abduction, seduction, interrogation, mutilation, carnage. and all-out craziness.
If I were to have one quibble, it’d be that the promised “big guns” don’t actually play that much of a part. If I were to have two quibbles, the second would be a wish for a bit more editing. But, all in all, a fast-paced, irreverent, entertaining read.
Title: The God Provides
Author: Thomas R. Clark
Publisher: St Rooster Books
I love mythology and folklore, and it’s always nice to see those oldest tales reflected and living on in our modern world. Especially when it comes to horror; so many of our horror stories have ancient origins, so many of our classic monsters go back to the days of strange gods and dark magics.
Those elements all come strongly into play in this book, which is divided into sections each pertaining to major Celtic/pagan old-school holidays: Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtane, and Lammas. The stories are interlinked, weaving together from past to present, and also feature some lovely, evocative poetry.
Things in the Foothills are rarely what they seem. Outside threats who mistake the rustic quiet as an easy hunting ground are in for some rude surprises, as are hapless strangers who might just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Such as the Foothills Slasher, a serial killer who’s about to find out there are far more dangerous things lurking in the night. Or a trio of inner-city lowlifes looking to help themselves to a big score from a back-country drug operation they heard about. Or a young hitchhiking loner with no idea how quickly luck can turn.
Meanwhile, there are the locals, a community of close-knit families, all harboring their own legacies and histories and traditions going way, waaaaay back. Not to mention rivalries, disputes, and secrets. Oh, those strange gods and dark magics are still very much alive and real here.
Title: Bouquet of Viscera
Author: Bridgett Nelson
Discovering a new-to-me author, who then also turns out to be REALLY REALLY GOOD, is a treat of which I never get tired. When it’s then also a woman, who’s bringing some serious hardcore horror? Oh, you better believe I am all in!
That said, remember, I am bent and far from normal, and a couple of the pieces in this collection were almost too much even for me … but I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop, even when the ick factor went off the charts.
First up is “Auras,” which opens with a child-molester getting hacked to pieces by an axe, courtesy of a young woman whose family legacy gives her the ability to see a person’s crimes, as well as the vigilante responsibility to do something about it.
Next, in “Political Suicide,” the machinations of a dysfunctional health-care system leave a single mother grief-stricken, until a twist of fate gives her the opportunity for revenge against the man whose greedy decisions led to her son’s death.
“Spores,” about a mycologist on assignment from a pharmaceutical company to study fungus in the woods of West Virginia, is one of THE ickiest up-close-and-personal bits of body-horror and eew eew eew but also there’s a big doofy sweetheart of a dog but eew, and the eyelid scene oh ick I can’t even!
Done journal-style, “Reflections” introduces us to another vigilante-type killer, seeking to punish those who deserve it, while keeping close tabs on the detective in charge of the investigations.
“Cooked” presents an all-too-plausible dismal near future scenario, in which decades of viral pandemics have taken a toll on society and the economy, to the point certain high-level authorities in the government and medical community decide more drastic measures are needed.
It feels a little weird to say that “Invader,” about teenagers getting chomped by a sea monster, is one of the lighter entries in the book … but you gotta admit, they had it coming.
“Jinx” is prefaced with a content warning, and that warning is not messing around; the sexual violence is dark and graphic, unflinching, and downright BRUTAL. Powerful, intense, VERY hard to read.
Finishing things up is “The Show Must Go On,” a multi-layered tale of aspiring starlets, tragedies, possessions, and a haunted theater.
Excellent stuff, even when difficult. Bridgett Nelson is definitely one to watch, a welcome addition to the club!