Monday, August 28, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Kirstyn Petras


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

We are joined today by Kirstyn Petras. Kirstyn is a Brooklyn-based fiction writer but primarily identifies as caffeine in a human suit held together by hair spray and sheer force of will. She has been published in Punk NoirHoosier NoirAlien Buddha Press, City Lights Theatre Company, and A Thin Slice of Anxiety. Her debut novel, The Next Witness, was released in May 2022 by Cinnabar Moth Publishing. When not writing, she trains contortion and aerial hoop. She is also the co-host of Dark Waters, a literary podcast exploring all that is dark, dreary, and wonderfully twisted. You can find her on Twitter and check out her work on her

Why do you write?

Because it’s impossible not to. It’s not a question of write or not write, it’s always, since I was a kid, been a question of writing what. I was always scribbling in notebooks when I was younger, starting to write stories and abandoning them halfway through. There have always been ideas brewing in the back of my mind, waiting for me to put pen to paper and let them loose.


What do you do when you’re not writing?

I don’t do well sitting still, so I’m constantly working on different things. I train aerial hoop and contortion, bake and experiment with new recipes, read new thrillers/horrors, and work on my podcast Dark Waters (a literary podcast focusing on dark fiction), among other things.


What’s your kryptonite as a writer?

I’m not very diligent in my writing. I don’t sit down to write every day. If I have an idea of where the story is going to go next, that’s when I’ll start to go, and then I can crank out a few thousand words at a time. Otherwise? The document may sit untouched for quite a while. I really need that moment of inspiration to get started. I’ve talked to so many authors that really are able to wake up and write every day at a specific time or have daily word count goals that they’re able to meet, and I really admire that.


Describe your book poorly.

In the words of a dear friend who offered this suggestion when I was struggling with cover letters; “Read it because it’s bloody and shit.”


If you met your characters in real life, what would you say to them?

Well, I don’t think Melody would have any desire to talk to me. Derek would probably half-heartedly through a punch at me, to which I’d just kind of shrug and say “Listen, everyone warned you.” Covington…..I think I’d bypass any of his concerns and make sure Jordan was getting some semblance of therapy.


What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

Authors would be Don DeLillo, Chuck Palahniuk, and Joe Hill - for books I’d add The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, Sadie by Courtney Summers, and After the Lights Go Out by John Vercher.


What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading multiple books at a time, right now it’s The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay and Dreamland by Rosa Rankin-Gee.


What’s the single best line you’ve ever read?

There are so many, but I’ll try to limit it to these 3. “Resist change at your own peril,” and, “at some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is,” are two of my favorite quotes from City of Girls. But I also have to give a lot of credit to a piece of dialogue in Island by Aldous Huxley. It’s too long to put it all here, so readers should definitely look it up in full but it starts:
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly…Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me.”


Which literary invention do you wish was real and why?

The babel fish. I know google headphones are getting close, but. I would really like a babel fish.


What are your bookish pet peeves?

When a character orders “a whiskey” or “a scotch” says something like, “Give me a beer,” at a bar. As a former bartender this really bugs me - what beer? What whiskey? There’s no way a bartender just knows what to give you, without at least a follow-up of “House whiskey okay?” or something similar. It’s one of those smaller aspects that I know doesn’t bother everyone but really pulls me out of the scene.



Alexander Covington is hunting a traitor: Melody Karsh, a missing girl accused of treason, a Party member who has forsaken her country. But, letters are appearing in mailboxes, being slipped beneath doors, and in the pockets of passersby. “Free Melody” is being spray painted on walls. Her image – cold, shivering, pathetic – has captured the public’s attention and sympathy.

Melody has no idea that her name is being used to start a movement, not until the executions of those demanding her freedom start airing on television.

Derek Lin would feel sympathy, if he didn’t blame Melody for the deaths of those who have disappeared without a trace, caught up in the investigation to find her.

Melody must choose to join the fight or stand aside. Derek will become a leader or break under the pressure. Alexander will decide how many bodies must fall to save his own life.

buy a copy here

Monday, August 21, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Clare O'Brien


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today we are joined by Clare V O'Brien. Clare has worked as a schoolteacher, a journalist, PR to a Scottish politician and PA to an American rock star. Originally a Londoner, she’s spent the last 23 years living beside a sea-loch in Scotland, which suits her much better. She started writing seriously in her 50s. Since then her poetry and other work has appeared in anthologies including Heather: an anthology of Scottish writing and art (Alice Louise Lannon, 2022), Poems From The Heron Clan IX (Katharine James Books, 2022), The Sea Is Here (Unimpatient, 2020), The Anthology Of Contemporary Gothic Verse (Emma Press, 2019), Songs To Learn And Sing (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2018), The Powers Of Nature (White Craw Publishing 2017) and in journals such as Mslexia, Popshot, Northwords Now, Lunate, and The Ekphrastic Review. She’s now working on an experimental novel entitled Light Switch and a full poetry collection,  Huginn & Muninn, named after Odin’s ravens. Her work is most often described as speculative, folk horror, neo-noir or modern gothic, but her main interest is the natural world and the creatures, real and imagined, which wander through it.

More info at

Why do you write?

It’s what I’m best at.  I’ve dabbled in music all my life – in my youth I was in a few indie bands, and I’ve worked in the music business - but words are really my thing.  I’m half-way through writing a novel, and a full-length collection of poetry is currently out to publishers, but aside from a travel guide I was commissioned to write years ago, my pamphlet ‘Who Am I Supposed To Be Driving?” is my first published book.  Write about what you know, they say, so I started with music - I was a Bowie fan from an early age.  He’s been a kind of virtual artistic mentor my whole life.

What made you start writing?

I’ve always written, but work and motherhood got in the way a bit.  I started to take it really seriously in middle age, after an artist I was close to died suddenly.  They were only in their early 50s. It brought it home to me that life can change at any time and that if I had things to express and communicate, I’d better get on with it.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Grow organic vegetables on our land in the Scottish Highlands.  I also help out with the family tourism business.

What’s the most useless skill you possess?

I can instantly remember lyrics of songs – even songs I hate.  Some of the worst ones haunt me.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Invisibility whenever I wanted it. I think it would be great for social observation and people-watching, and I could avoid any dangerous encounters.

What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

Hilary Mantel for her intensity and her immersive characterization.  Neil Gaiman for his wild imagination.  Philip Pullman for his steadfast humanity. Jane Austen for her astute plotting and social observation. JRR Tolkien and Mervyn Peake for their atmosphere and world-building. I’ve recently discovered the amazing Scottish novelist and poet Jenni Fagan – other favourite poets include Ted Hughes, RS Thomas, Michael Symmons Roberts, WB Yeats, Iain Sinclair and the performance poet Kae Tempest.

What is your favorite book from childhood?

The Owl Service by Alan Garner.

What are you currently reading?

I usually have a novel (or some non-fiction…) plus a poetry collection on the go.  Currently the novel is Mischief Acts by Zoe Gilbert, and I’ve got All The Names Given by poet Raymond Antrobus on my bedside table.

You have to choose an animal or cartoon character that best represents you. Which is it and why?

A pterosaur.  It was my favourite dinosaur as a kid and I love all its raptor descendants, especially eagles and owls.

Which literary invention do you wish was real and why?

Philip Pullman’s Subtle Knife.  Travelling between different parts of the multiverse definitely beats getting on a plane for your holidays!



Written in tribute to the iconic star who would have been 75 this year, and named after a line in an outtake from his 1996 album 1.Outside, Who Am I Supposed To Be Driving? is a collection of ekphrastic poems written in response to thirteen of David Bowie’s albums, from 1969’s Space Oddity to 2016’s Blackstar. 

The ultimate changeling, Bowie wrote songs that led us into landscapes as various and exotic as the characters he created to sing them.

The book’s preface reads: “These poems aren’t a critique.  They’re not a biography. They’re not an attempt to paraphrase or explain the music which inspired them.  Instead, they’re an exploration of the emotions the work creates, and the lost worlds from which these iconic albums first emerged. Or perhaps they’re just the abstract thoughts of a flight controller, working the night shift, wishing Major Tom would return.”

buy a copy here: 

Hedgehog Poetry Press


Monday, August 14, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Shilo Niziolek


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

joining us today is Shilo Niziolek. Shilo's (she/her) cnf book, FEVER, is out from Querencia Press. Her chapbook, A Thousand Winters In Me, is forthcoming from Gasher Press. I Am Not An Erosion: Poems Against Decay, a micro chapbook of collage poetry was part of Ghost City Press’s online summer series 2022. Her work has appeared in Pork Belly Press, [PANK], Juked, Entropy, Oregon Humanities, HerStry, among others, and is forthcoming in Phoebe Journal, Crab Creek Review, Literary Mama, Sunday Mornings at the River and Pumpernickel House.  Shilo holds an MFA from New England College and is Associate Faculty at Clackamas Community College.



Why do you write? 

I write primarily creative nonfiction and poetry, though I dabble a bit in fiction.

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book? 

After finishing writing a new book comes all the nitty gritty (editing, researching presses, submitting) so I usually celebrate by taking a chunk of time off and just reading some books for fun until I feel replenished enough to return to the page. A cupcake or two along the way doesn’t hurt.

Describe your book in three words. 

Desire. Illness. Trauma.

Describe your book poorly. 

Some chunks of memory.

What is your favorite book from childhood? 

I loved The Third Eye by Lois Duncan (author of I Know What You Did Last Summer). I checked it out from the library so many times. Sometimes while reading it late at night I would get so freaked out I would throw the book across the room because I didn’t want it anywhere near me. My love for books is often visceral.

What are you currently reading? 

I am a multi-book reader, so currently I am reading Sinead Gleeson’s cnf book Constellations, Fredrik Backman’s Beartown, S.A. Chakraborty’s The Kingdom of Copper, Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, and I am listening to Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party on audiobook.

What’s the one book someone else wrote that you wish you had written? 

I wish I had written Samantha Hunt’s The Seas. It is so dreamy and as I read it I wanted to rip the pages from the book and consume them or staple them to my wall.

What’s on your literary bucket list? 

I want to see the Library of Trinity College in Dublin. My mom visited there a few years back and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

Do you read the reviews of your books or do you stay far far away from them, and why?

Because I am such a new and small indie author, I am still at the stage or reading them all. That is probably because I haven’t yet got a bad one (most reviews have been written by people who know me, so they are thankfully kind), but that will probably change when the first bad one drops.

If you were on death row, what would your last meal be? 

I have a lot of food restrictions because of my autoimmune diseases, so it’d probably have to be lasagna or ravioli because I haven’t eaten those things in almost a decade.


A memoir made up of essay fragments, Fever, examines what it is to desire throughout all phases and states of life and being. Niziolek mixes plain language with poetic prose to interrogate trauma from domestic violence and illness, sexuality, and the different ways we can and do love despite these things. All of this comes together to create a keen focus on the many ways one can experience desire and its intersection with love.

"Shilo Niziolek’s Fever is a searing portrait of a kaleidoscopic life. It specifically describes the experiences of illness, grief, and eros and the mysterious ways these three conditions emerge like a Hydra as one. The prose shows how loss of one kind of body gives way to the creation of many new bodies: the dreaming body, the remembering body, the writing body (along with the texts the writing body makes), and the body that encounters the presence of absence most profoundly through feelings of love and desire for what lies just beyond reach, but also beyond her experience of pain. While it might be easy to categorize Fever as prose about illness—that it is, distinctly so—it is also a book about spiritual love and the many ways it manifests in our lives. It makes for a very poignant reading experience."
-Jay Ponteri, author of Someone Told Me

buy a copy here

Fever a book by Shilo Niziolek


Thursday, August 10, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Richard Jeffrey Newman


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today we are joined by Richard Jeffrey Newman. Richard has published three books of poetry, T’shuvah (Fernwood Press 2023), Words for What Those Men Have Done (Guernica Editions 2017) and The Silence of Men (CavanKerry Press 2006), as well as a chapbook, For My Son, A Kind of Prayer (Ghostbird Press 2016). In addition, he has co-translated three books of classical Persian poetry, most recently The Teller of Tales: Stories from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Junction Press 2011). Newman is on the executive board of Newtown Literary, a Queens-based literary non-profit, and he curates the First Tuesdays reading series in Jackson Heights, NY. He is Professor of English at Nassau Community College. His website is


Why do you write?

I write to create—for myself, on my own terms, and in the most expansive way the phrase can be understood—the political meaning of my life; and only if I believe that meaning will be worth someone else’s time and/or money do I presume to try to publish.

What made you start writing?

I am a survivor of childhood sexual violence. I could never have explained it this way at the time, but when I started writing poetry in junior high school, I did so because it proved to me that I had a voice, that my voice had a body, and that I deserved to be heard, even if—because it was some years before I showed anyone what I was writing—the only audience I had was me. There is no aspect of my work, poetry or prose, that does not find its roots in that initial need not to succumb to the voicelessness that the men who violated me tried to force on me.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I don’t know if I would call it hidden, because I don’t try to hide it, but I play piano. I play mostly for myself, and mostly improvisation, since I read music very slowly and never developed a repertoire. I’ve reached the point, though, where I can say, honestly, that I’m good enough to have played professionally if I’d been more disciplined about it when I was younger. I wrote about my relationship with music on my blog and, if you’re interested, you can listen here to some music I composed in the 1990s when, for a brief time, I tried to get serious.

What’s the most useless skill you possess?

I can fold a fitted sheet.

Describe your book in three words.

Hard won peace.

Describe your book poorly.

A self-indulgent descent into second-person navel gazing.

If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why?

June Jordan. She was my first poetry teacher way back in the 1980s. She saw something in me that she tried to get me to see at the time, but I was so afraid of even my own shadow—the ongoing impact of the sexual violence I survived—that I retreated inside myself every time she got close. Still, I read her poetry and her essays assiduously, almost religiously, and through them I learned so much about the kind of writer I wanted to be, that I hope I have become. June is dead now, but if I could, I would love to spend the day with her, to tell her how much she and her work continue to mean to me and to learn something about what I am sure she would still have to teach me.

What is your favorite book from childhood?

The earliest favorite I remember, which goes back to when I was three or four—and this is significant to me because I remember very little from that time in my life—was Harold and The Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson.

What are you currently reading?

Like most people, I am reading more than one book at a time. Because I am also prepping for my spring classes, you happen to have caught me when the pile is higher than usual. Here they are, in no particular order:

a.       The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry, edited by Arnold Rampersad

b.      Voices Within The Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets, edited by Howard Schwartz and Anthony Rudolf

c.       Essential Voices: Poetry of Iran and Its Diaspora, edited by Christopher Nelson

d.      Days When I Hide My Corpse in a Cardboard Box, by Lok Fung, translated by Eleanor Goodman

e.       Claims for Poetry, edited by Donald Hall

f.        The First Book: Twentieth-Century Poetic Careers in America, by Jesse Zuba

g.       Harlem Shadows, by Claude McKay

h.      Alive At The End of The World, by Saeed Jones

i.         Cruelty, Ai

j.         Peel My Love Like An Onion, by Ana Castillo

k.       Deaf Republic, by Ilya Kaminsky

l.         The Arabian Nights, translated by Husain Haddawy

What is under your bed?

Nothing but dust.


Monday, August 7, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: tommy blake

I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Joining us today is tommy blake. tommy (he/they) takes bisexual disaster to a new level with his love for hyperpop, mid-2000s emo hits, and beachy indie pop. they wrote two collections similar to this title. they are after: transience, transference, transfusions, & transmutations, which is about the tenderness of queerness, and lacuna, which grapples with raw teen angst and queerness. his full length poetry collections are forthcoming in 2023: NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL HORROR! (Gutslut Press) and So, Who’s Courage? (Bullshit Lit.).

Why do you write?

I write because I always have; it’s what I know. I’ve been writing since I can remember, and I was  fascinated by storytelling and imagery at a young age. I loved to retell, or write fanfiction, of my favorite TV shows when I was in elementary school. In middle school, that turned into writing lyrics and occasionally musical accompaniment to the lyrics. However, in high school, I turned mostly to poetry. I tried writing prose on and off, but poetry stuck with me better. Ever since, I’ve been writing almost only poetry. At this point, the real reason is to make better sense of the world around me and process emotions and traumatic experiences. It’s therapeutic, at times.

What made you start writing?


For space cowboy on a little, uh, space exploration? (Bottlecap Press, 2023) specifically, I wanted to write it to better explore my transmasc side I used to repress in my early 20s. In a sense, it’s me rewriting my history and replacing what actually happened in my early 20s (i.e. repression) with what should have been. I applied a similar method as to when I wrote lacuna (Kith Books, 2022), in which I revisited an old manuscript I wrote as a teenager and mined it for parts. For lacuna, I lifted complete poems and made tweaks as I went along. There were only 2 poems that are completely unrecognizable. However, for space cowboy on a little, uh, space exploration?, I only took vibes and words from that older body of work. From there, I wrote a loose sequel for lacuna, which rewrites my late teens/early 20s.

What do you do when you’re not writing? 

When I’m not writing, you’ll find me watching F tier shows with my partner, Theo, (only to be quickly followed with an episode of an A tier show). I play with my cats often, or take as many pictures as I can! I have four cats: Peanut, Cosmo, Mimi, and Skitty. My full length poetry collection, So, Who’s Courage?, follows Peanut and Cosmo as Courage from Courage the Cowardly Dog. That collection is set to debut this year with Bullshit Lit. Somehow, I got back to talking about writing! Anyway, other things I do outside of writing include: photography, playing the piano, music composition, and playing video games.

Describe your book in three words.

For space cowboy on a little, uh, space exploration?, I’d say: nebulous, dissociation, lassoing. 

What are some of your favorite books and/or authors? 

My favorite authors/poets are nat raum, charlie perseus, Theo Sebastian, ami j. sanghvi, [sarah] cavar, samantha fain, arden will, Melissa Martini, Aura Martin, jude rigor, Robin Kinzer, shyla jones, KB Brookins, and Taylor Byas.

What are you currently reading? 

I’m currently reading MACHINATIONS by JP Seabright and Kinneson Lalor. 

What is under your bed? 

If it’s nighttime, my cats Skitty and Cosmo are probably there. Peanut likes to heckle Cosmo (they’re half-siblings, but not littermates) by running him out from under the bed, so there’s a slight chance she’s there, too. So, essentially, I do, in fact, have demons under my bed.

Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler? 

I’m a bit of both! I read almost every book I buy immediately after buying it. It’s 98% true for all poetry books I pick up. However, I take longer to read prose. One day, it would be a dream to have a basement that’s just a home library. Or a secret room that is a library. Both?


space cowboy on a little, uh, space exploration? discovers the narrator’s queerness in their early 20s. the poems are minimalist in style and follow a free verse couplet stanza formatting. other components of this work include a focus on imagery, a large dash of color (the writer has synesthesia), and modern Gen Z/Millennial cusp language. the collection draws inspiration from nat raum and arden will. it is suggested to be read with the author’s other works: lacuna and after: transience, transference, transfusions, & transmutations.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Books I Read in July

 Aaaand I'm back up in my reading game! Closed out July with a total of 12 books read, and some of them were pretty dang good! I'm also crushing my Goodreads goal... I'm 28 ahead of schedule and 1 away from completing the 70 I intially set for a goal (according to the site, but I'm actually at goal because Darin Bradley's book isn't on goodreads yet so it can't count it!). Boom!!! 

Soooo.... what did I read, you ask? Let's take a look:

It Came From The Swamp, edited by Joey R Poole

I saw that Malarky Books had put a call out for some help in getting funds for the press and had dropped the prices of their books to encourage sales. I don't need much of a nudge to buy small press, so I snagged this ebook.

It Came From the Swamp is an anthology of stories involving cryptids and local folklore and honestly, who doesn't love getting lost in some creature-feature fiction every now and then?

Whether or not you're a believer in Bigfoot and the Florida Skunkape, or the lesser known Boo Hag and Mishipeshu, these stories will pull you in and wow you. There are shark teethed mermaids hiding beneath boat docks and scarecrows who come after those who poision their land and jackalopes that harness tremendous powers.

While not typically a fan of collected stories from a variety of writers, which tend to have an uneven feel for me, I had high hopes for this one. And it definitely exceeded my expectations. Why aren't more of you guys reading this one?!

A fascinating collection of the wild and weird that's not afraid to point a finger at the real monsters - humankind!

Ling Hun by Ai Jiang

Death is such a terrifying and fascinating thing. It's inevitable... from the moment we take our first breath, every subsequent breath brings us one step closer to it. No one really knows what happens when we die but everyone has a feeling, a theory, an expectation, a hope - do we cease to exist? Does our spirit go on to a better place? Do we hang around and haunt the places and people we loved most in life?

In Linghun, author Ai Jiang explores the idea that it is we, the living, who keep the dead alive and tethered to this world through our inability to let them go. She has created a small neighborhood called HOME, a hot spot for specter activity. Those in mourning can bid to purchase a house there, and welcome their deceased with open arms.

Wenqi's family move into a house there that used to belong to their cousin. Wenqi's mother immediately unpacks the photos and belongings of her dead brother, eager to summon him back into their lives while strangers who've moved to the town but cannot afford a home there yet, referred to as lingerers, begin to camp on their lawn. One such lingerer is a boy around Wenqi's age named Liam, whose family has also suffered a loss. Across the street lives an elderly woman known as Mrs. who lost her husband a long time ago and has been unsuccessful calling him back to her.

The book moves between these three characters, whose lives soon become intertwined in ways they hadn't initially imagined. Haunting, hopeful, and painfully atmospheric, Linghun is not only a story about longing and depair and how we carry our grief. It is also a story that questions just who is doing the haunting here?

All These Subtle Deceits by CS Humble

This book was hand selected for me by my bookish pal @drewsof as part of a curated 'blind box' of books he recently sent my way. And boy does he know my tastes!

Welcome to Black Wells, a small town with some pretty dark stuff swirling beneath its surface. Enter Lauren, who moves there after a bad breakup, with the hopes of starting over somwhere fresh at the recommendation of her BFFs. But one visit to a local bar bathroom changes everything when she becomes the vicitim of a violent supernatural haunting.

Unable to shake the spirits that have attached to her, she ends up connecting with William Daniels, an excommunicated exorcist who, after witnessing one of her 'episodes' is just as determined as she is to understand what is happening to her and together, they plan to take action to make it stop.

Trauma and demon possession for the win!

Not sure I would have ever picked this one up on my own, as it had flown under my radar when it released last year. But I'm so glad I read it because I really enjoyed it.

And, oh no! I see that it's going to be a loosely connected book series set in the the town of Black Wells with the second installment, All the Prospect Around Us, already out in the world.

Damn it you guys... another series for me to keep track of, lol!!

The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller

Does the world really need another post-pandy novel? Well, if Claire Fuller is writing it, then the answer is yes!

It's a bit of a slow-to-start novel involving a deadly virus dubbed "dropsy". Those who catch it suffer from severe organ swelling, their eyes push out of their sockets and, fun times, the newest varient also impacts the brain and causes memory loss so you get to stumble around confused and disoriented while you die.

Neffy signed up to participate in a paid trial in which she'll be infected with the original strain and issued a test vaccine to see if it works. The book opens with her getting checked in and settled the day before they stick her. There's nine volunteers total (or maybe it's eight?). And when Neffy finally pulls through the worst of it days later, the vaccine apparently doing what it was designed to do, she discovers it's all too late. The hospital staff abandoned them. Only four of the other volunteers are left, the shit having hit the fan before the virus was administered to them. Neffy is informed that they are not to draw attention to themselves or the building, that they are already rationing the food, and that they hope but are not hopeful that the army will come rescue them once the trial period has ended.

The book shifts from pandemic fiction to isolation fiction. They are in shock. They believe most of the world is dead. They are afraid to leave, and Neffy feels pressured to be the one who will ultimately have to head out and scavange for the group.

As Neffy gets to know her fellow lock-ins, she discovers one of them is the inventor of a machine that allows you to "revisit" your memories in a virtual-reality trance kind of way. This quickly becomes a creative way for Fuller to delve into Neffy's backstory - why she's so eager to volunteer to do unsafe things to her body and why she's writing journal style letters to "Dearest H"... another nifty way for us to learn about our protagonist.

You won't understand the title until much, much later in the book, when some other pretty big reveals come speeding at us. In hindsight, I'm not sure why I didn't spot some of it sooner.

Bloodmetal by Darin Bradley

I've been a big @dammitdarin fan for years... first cracking my teeth on his dystopian novel Chimpanzee (which you should totally read if you haven't yet).

Bloodmetal, forthcoming later this year, is a whole other animal! 'Part western and part victoriana, it spans dusty frontiers and marble ballrooms, slinging swords, corsets, and gun barrels in a new modern fantasy. You haven't seen cowboys and wizards like this before...'

My husband would get a kick out this because it's based on a D&D campaign Darin led when he was a teenager.

There is war brewing between two influential families, and individual factions have splintered off into groups who are either in support of or are trying to stop the development of a powerful new drug varient that's destined to change the world and shift the balance of power...

Within all this chaos, we pair up with some people who have willingly, and for others... not so willingly, gone through a body modification that involves having wire filaments and a transducer inserted into thier head, giving them the power to talk telepathically, confuse and trick thier enemies' brains, and even stop moving bullets in mid-air...

If weird western fantasy fiction mashups are your thing... get Bloodmetal on your to-buy list pronto.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

I listened to this one on audio and was immediately sucked in. It's atomspheric, haunting, and unsettling... and I really dug it.

It's the dark creepy tale of a married couple, Juliette and Richard, who are grieving the recent loss of their five year old son after having moved out to Starve Acre. The house, which gets its name from the field beyond the backyard, had belonged to Richard's father, who had passed not too long ago after suffering a bout of madness. As Richard fingers through a box of old books in the basement, he comes across one that details a rather gruesome hanging of three young boys from a great old oak that used to grow in the middle of the field. To help him process the loss of his son, Richard takes to excavating the field, and locates not only the roots of that old tree, but the bones of a long dead hare.

As the story rocks backward and forward in time, we learn that their son Ewan believed he could see the old oak from time to time while playing in the field. Juliette and Richard also began to notice frightening changes in him, violent tendencies that involved him inflicting harm on animals and other children.

As the parental terror and concern for Ewan's mental well-being builds in the past, Richard and his wife also face strange terrors in the present - remember those hare bones? Welp, Richard brought them into the house to study them and noticed almost immediately that they began to reconnect themselves with fresh cartilage, and muscle, and veins. Meanwhile, Juliette swears she can feel Ewan still, and invites a small group of occultists over to try to make contact with him.

Nothing good comes from any of this and let me tell you... the final scene, and that last line... oh. my. god. This book goes from creepy to absolutely cray-cray! I don't think I'll ever be able to look at a wild rabbit the same again.

Nope. I'm ruined.

In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson

I am kicking myself in the ass for waiting so long to read this one! I had downloaded it as an ebook a gazillon years ago but never managed to start it. Then I saw it for super cheap at a local book warehouse a while back and snagged it in hardcover, thinking that would entice me to pick it up faster, since it would be staring me in the face everytime I chose my next read. But there was always another book that grabbed my attention more, and so it waited and waited and waaaaited for me, like the woman-thing that bided her time in Travis' cabinet, whispering to me from time to time, reminding me it was there.

This book is fire. I fell in love with the prose immediately. It's got that slow, haunting, gritty thing going on where you just want to savor every sentence. Davidson takes the vampire trope and bashes it against the camper walls until it becomes a bloody, pulpy suggestion of the thing we knew, making it something all his own. It's a fabulous western lit / monster horror / thriller cross over that sounds like it shouldn't work but holy hell does it ever! And it has one of the most empathetic "bad guys" I've ever read.

If this isn't my top read of 2023 when all is said and done, I'd be surprised. I loved it that much!

The Quiet Tenant by Clemence Michallon

This was amazing on audio! Perfect pacing and narration, the writing and the short chapters lent itself so well to this format.. so glad I experienced it this way.

Aidan Thomas is a serial killer who also happens to be a beloved neighbor and father. After his wife's death, Aidan and his teenaged daughter Cecilia are forced to move, and he has a decision to make. Does he kill the woman he's secretly held hostage in his shed for the past five years, or bring her with them?

The woman in the shed, who he has forced to call herself Rachel, will need to behave. She'll need to lie to his daughter, pretend she's renting a room. She cannot scream, she cannot disobey, she cannot try to run. She will be locked in her room, handcuffed to the radiator and will only be let out when he allows her - for showers, for food, for nothing else. There are cameras everywhere. If she tries anything... he will know, and he won't be happy.

Rachel and Cecilia start to build a tentative bond over meals, and they eventually convince Aidan to let them watch movies together on the couch. Rachel's rewarded for how well she's been behaving, and gets more and more time out of her room...

Meanwhile, Aidan begins to get close to Emily, a bartender at a restaurant he frequents, who quickly falls head over heels for him. Heck, let's be real here. She's borderline obsessed. Everyone in town knows he moved into the Judge's rental, and one day she decides to drive by it, just to get a peek. Only she can't stop at a peek, so she gets out and knocks on the door...

The book is told entirely from the perspective of these three women - Rachel, Emily, and Cecilia (with little vignettes from the women he's murdered too, sprinkled here and there throughout the novel) - and the book really gets going as these three storylines come crashing together.

I was sucked in from the very start, actually enjoying the whole getting up and going to work thing because I was listening to this during my commute and couldn't wait to see how it ended!

Time's Mouth by Edan Lepucki

Edan Lepucki is back, this time with a chunky novel about the gifts we're cursed with, family trauma and motherhood, and the power of memories.

In it, we first meet Ursa, a woman who has discovered that she can slip through the membrane of time and experience moments of her life again, like a movie playing out right in front of her. She befriends Karin, an excessively rich woman who learns of her gift, and offers Ursa an opportunity to stay at her mansion, hidden in the woods of Santa Cruz, provided she use her ability to help others who are troubled and seeking solace from the world. Women begin flocking to the property, enthralled with Ursa and addicted to the side effects that occur when wielding her 'power'. But the more Ursa thrusts herself into her memories, the more she pushes everyone, including her own young son Ray, away from her.

From here, the book is broken out into multiple parts, each section jumping further and further into the future of this multigenerational family... where we learn that a now college-aged Ray and Cherry, one of the other children growing up on the cult-like compound who was abandoned there by her mother at a very young age, ran away when Cherry learns she's pregnant with his child. Soon, their daughter Opal, who is barely old enough to walk, begins to have strange episodes with incredibly creepy side effects that eventually scare Cherry so badly that she takes off one day without a trace. Hmmm.. like mother, like daughter, right? Then, fast foward a bit, and we're getting to know Opal as a teenager as she begins to question her past and attempts to harness this thing she calls "tunneling" to learn more about the mother who left her.

Time's Mouth is an intricately layered, and at times painstakingly slow, story of how we never really know our pasts and of how much we must rely on others for our own history. Imagine how addictive it might be to revisit those moments that shaped us, made us who we are, and to spend time again with those we've lost?

The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun

Korean psychological horror for the win-ish?!

Aw man. This book is fucked up. It opens up with our man waking up from a coma in the hospital. He was in a bad car accident and learns that his wife didn't make it and he's completely paralyzed. And to make matter worse, he realizes the only family he has left is his mother in law, with whom he has a strained relationship, and now that her only child is dead and he's being released to home care, he's all the family she has left too.

This book plays with your emotions. Witchy MIL? check. Completely helpless bedridden dude who's now reliant on this witchy MIL for his survival? check. Weird uncomfortable situations that make you want to turn your head or reach into the book to make them stop? check. The isolation and the mistreatment and the cringe behavior is on point. Yet the deeper into this short novel we go, the more we start to understand. And the more we understand, the less we want to root for our guy, but if we don't, who will, and really though... should anyone?

Black Bark by Brian Evenson

I recently saw that Brian Evenson had a few copies of this one on hand that he was willing to sign and ship out and, I mean, how could I say no to that?! You could say I'm a bit of an Evenson fangirl, but again, if you've read his work, how could you not be?

Black bark is an incredibly dark collection - clocking in at just under 150 pages - that showcases some of Evenson's creepiest stories. Pitch black tunnels that house dripping, whispering creatures. A strange cabin that beckons to a lost and injured man may be the last threshold he crosses. Due to a series of unfortunate events, a young boy is forced to live with his estranged grandmother, who is anything but the kindly old woman he was hoping for. And two men are sent out on a one-way mission to follow a fence line to determine where the contagion began...

His writing gets under your skin. It itches. It twitches. It burrows in deep and never leaves you. It's the movement in the corner of your vision. The noise you hear downstairs just as you're about to drop off to sleep. The slight disturbance in the air that tickles the hairs on the back of your neck.

Which of Brian's books have you read? Do you have a favorite?

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

Goodreads tells me I added this book to my shelves back in 2014. At some point after that, I purchased a copy and here it sat, all this time, waiting to be picked up and read. And why did I finally pick it up now, you ask? Well, because this weekend, as I was reading Hye-Young Pyun's The Hole, I decided I would do a little reading experiment. I would choose my next read based off of the authors who blurbed Pyun's book, and I would continue to choose my next read in this fashion until I get to a book that I don't like. Laura van den Berg happened to be one of the authors who blurbed Pyun's book. Since I already owned Find Me, I figured this was the best place to start. And what a place to start it was!

I really enjoyed this book and wish I had it read it much sooner. I love that it's set in the middle of a pandemic and that it was written before any knowledge of Covid and the impact it would have on our country.

The novel is broken out into two parts - Book One follows our protagonist as she spends her days killing time in the hospital during the height of the pandemic. People who are infected develop silver scale-like blisters on their bodies and slowly begin to lose their memories, who they are, where they are from, what food is, what breathing is. The death rate is through the roof. But Joy appears to be immune and she may be part of the cure. So she's brought to a special hospital in Kansas where they are studying and testing those who have not shown signs of the virus in the hopes of helping others survive as well.

Joy continues to retain her memories as some of the patients around her fall ill and die, and as a result begins to dive deeper into herself and her pre-pandemic traumas. Then, on the heels of a news annoucement that the death toll appears to be slowing down, Joy convinces one of the hospital staff to give her the code to the outer door and she devises a plan to head to Florida to locate her estranged mother. Book Two leaves the hospital in its rearview as Joy begins the road trip of a lifetime across a country that has been ravaged by the pandemic.

The book is unbound by time, in that weird spongy way that isolation and boredom can have on you, and the prose is incredibly lovely in a gut-punchy, ridiculously quote-worthy way. If I was a fan of book darts or marginalia, I would have marked up soooo many pages!

So where do I go from here? On to the back cover of of Find Me course! Edan Lepuki blurbed this book, but I just read her forthcoming novel Time's Mouth last week, so I decided I'd go with Dan Chaon instead. Strangely enough, I've never read him before, but I have a copy of Await Your Reply that's also been sitting here for years... so onward we go in the #bookblurbreadingexperiment...