Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Blog Tour: Calvaria Fell: Stories

We're happy to help Meerkat Press support the release of their latest title, Calvaria Fell: Stories,  by participating in their blog tour. And if you're at all into winning free stuff, they're running a giveaway where you can potentially win a $25 Meerkat Press Giftcard.

Click here to enter!

I've always been curious to know who authors get star struck over, and whether they've brushed shoulders with the people they most admire. So...we're starting a cool new author series in which they get to share their sixe degrees of separation or close calls with celebrities/authors/musicians.... 

When Bono Kissed Me

By Cat Sparks


Sydney, 1993. Rumour had it that one of the New South Wales Premier’s daughters wanted desperately to meet U2 so on 26th November daddy made it happen with a government reception in the State Office Block (AKA The Black Stump) where I worked as a media monitor and the Premier’s official photographer. Everyone with any kind of half-baked excuse crammed into the top floor reception rooms. The band wore matching uniforms & probably wondered what the hell they were doing there surrounded by star stuck public servants. Later it transpired U2 had trouble booking their Sydney concerts, as the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust  rejected their application for the Sydney Football Stadium until Premier John Fahey personally intervened to allow the shows to take place. 


Photography was tricky as everyone was bumper to bumper but I managed to elbow my way to enough reasonable shots. I can’t remember which kind of film camera I was using, only that it was definitely manual focus. Suddenly Bono appears and he’s smiling right at me. He pushes through the throng, raises his arm, gently lifts the camera from my hands, wrangles his face is next to mine, aims, kisses my cheek and takes a selfie. Note – there were no ‘selfies’ back then and the odds of getting the shot in focus were pretty much zero. Apparently, this was his signature move with female photographers. He returned my camera and jostled off into the crowd. Gobsmackingly, the shot (which I developed and printed myself) was indeed in focus as you can see.


Premier’s staff were given a bunch of free tickets to that evening’s show. Wikipedia reports that bass player Adam Clayton had a few too many drinks and was unable to play that evening but I have no memory of this or his guitar technician Stuart Morgan filling in. The entire evening was magical.


The photo prompts in me a single regret – no longer being in possession of such bushy au naturale eyebrows.



Releasing today!

Science Fiction | Dystopian | Dark Fantasy

Calvaria Fell is a stunning collaborative collection of weird tales from two acclaimed authors, Kaaron Warren and Cat Sparks. It features previously published stories from both authors, along with a new novella by Kaaron Warren and four new stories by Cat Sparks. The collection offers a glimpse into a chilling future world that is similar to our own. Readers will be drawn into experiences at once familiar and bizarre, where our choices have far-reaching consequences and the environment is a force to be reckoned with. The title of the collection tethers these stories to a shared space. The calvaria is the top part of the skull, comprising five plates that fuse together in the first few years of life. Story collections work like this; disparate parts melding together to make a robust and sturdy whole. The calvaria tree, also known as the dodo tree, adapted to being eaten by the now-extinct dodo bird; its seeds need to pass through the bird’ s digestive tract in order to germinate. In a similar way, the stories in Calvaria Fell reflect the idea of adaptation and the consequences of our actions in a changing world.

BUY LINKS:  Meerkat Press | Bookshop.org | Amazon


Gardens of Earthly Delight

Cat Sparks


“Them two in the corner. The ones wrapped up in silver. Those would make a lovely pair of elves.”

The broker squints through the floating detention center’s musty ambience, searching through the mess of huddled forms. Forty bodies jammed into each cage, barely stirring from heat stress and exhaustion. “Might do,” he says, sniffing loudly, wiping his nose on his damp stained sleeve. “How much?”

The guard names a figure and the broker laughs. “They’re flotsam off the Risen Sea, not royalty or richling lah-de-dahs! I’ll give you sixty for the both, providing they don’t got nothing worse than scabies.”

“Eighty,” says the guard, crossing his arms. “Their bloods are clean. My cages are the cleanest on this barge!”

“So you reckon,” says the broker, patting down his pockets for his purse. “Seventy—and that’s my final. Take it or you can bugger off.”

The men bump elbows to seal the deal and a fold of grimy notes passes hand to hand. The guard unclips a torch from his belt, light-spears the huddled forms until they squirm. “You two—get yerselves moving if you know what’s good for ya,”

Thermal blankets shiver, disgorging tangled arms and legs. Thin brown bodies shielding eyes from the bright beam, nudging their way to the cage’s single door. Stepping around the ones who can’t or won’t budge.

Silver scrunches as the boy clasps the blanket against his chest.

“Ed here’s got an employment opportunity,” says the guard.

“What kind?” says the girl.

“Well, aren’t we the picky ones. A one-way ticket out of this shithole and ’asides—you won’t be getting nothing better. Barge can only hold so many. Pass this up and you’ll end up wherever yer sent.”

He sniffs . . . wherever yer sent being well understood as code for over the side. The fetid harbor holds a lot of secrets.

Crinkling thermal masks, covert whispers. “We stay together,” the girl states. “We must not be separated.”

The guard dips the beam, slings a glance at the broker who nods enthusiastically. “Oh yeah, they’re definitely a set. No question. Madame will take ’em both, for sure. No worries.”

He leans closer. “Madame takes her job real serious. Reckon she used to be one of your lot. She’ll see you straight and have yer back. Takes a hefty cut of coin but she’s worth it all.”

The guard waves over armed reinforcements before punching in a complicated door code. Dulled detainees groan and shift, taking an interest in proceedings, rattling wires and slinging slurs and insults.

The guard grabs the girl’s thin arm to yank her through the doorway. The boy leaps after, abandoning the blanket to a sea of grabbing hands as the heavy steel cage door is slammed and bolted.

Madame raises an eyebrow when she learns how far the twins have come. Nobody travels far these days. Not like in the Before time when people wandered free and easy to far-off lands with names and edges, their borders crossed with a minimum of fuss and barter.

She frowns but doesn’t contradict. Madame Bastarache didn’t get to be uncontested Grandam of Calvaria Estate for decades without knowing when and why to listen.

“Give us yer names, then.”

“I’m Pearl,” says the girl, standing straight, “and he is Kash.”

“You’ll make a simply adorable faery duo, sister Pearl and brother Kash. Is faeries what you had in mind?” Madame eyes them over, her eyelids thickly painted petal pink. “You’re skinny enough for faeries, tis for sure. Course you know you’ll have to stay that way. And then there’ll be the wing implants. Some folks don’t take too well to that kind of thing.”

“We will take to it,” says Pearl.

Kash nods.

Madame beams, rouged cheeks shimmering with glitter. “Glad to hear it. Faeries are a sensible option on account of the social distance . You won’t ever have to get too near.” She leans in closer, nods with her chin at the vast and lavish Manor House nestled regally within a semicircle of poplars. “Manor children observe you dancing in the distance. Flitting through sunset dappled foliage.” She raises her hands and waggles sausage fingers. “You can both dance, can’t you? Never mind if you can’t, we can sort you out.”

“I dance,” said Kash.

“Excellent!” says Madame, clasping hands together at her bosom.

“The wing thing—will it hurt?”

“Full anesthetic privileges,” boasts Madame. “Never less than the best for my faery treasures. Plus, lefty food, so you won’t have to starve yourselves for those willowy figures.”

A crowd gathers, a hodgepodge mix of tall and short, fat and squat, hooked noses, flappy ears and tizzy hair.

Kash opens his mouth but before he can speak, he’s drowned out by a voice from up the back. A soft voice calling “Tell ’em about the children!”

Pearl panics as a wave of titters ripple through the gathering.

“Hush now, Marlene,” says Madame, “There’ll be plenty of time for that once we’ve gotten these new folks signed and sealed.”

Kash grips Pearl’s arm. She pats his hand. “And we will be working alongside other faery folk?”

“But of course!” Madame places two curled fingers in her mouth and whistles, long and sharp. “Nettle dear, take our two new lovely treasures—remind me of your names again, my sweets.”

“Pearl and Kash and we need to stay together—no matter what. Our home was—”

“This is your home now, darlings, and together always you shall stay! I’ll make sure we note that in the Book.”

The crowd parts amidst much shuffling and sniffling. A girl emerges, garbed in a confectionary of lace and chiffon; mincing steps, careful not to trip. She winks at Pearl. “Youse can call me Nettie. Reckon ya wanna walk or take the carriage?”

Says Madame, “May I recommend a casual stroll around the lake past the weeping willows. Take in the sights and get suitably acquainted.”

More muttering and mumbling as the crowd disperses.

“The old bag never lets me take the carriage,” says Nettie once they are safely out of earshot. “She should try walking in these stupid shoes.”

“So gorgeous,” says Kash.

“The fuckers pinch,” says Nettie, “not to mention shatter easy on account of them being glass. I still got scars from falling off the last pair.” She tugs at her hem to expose the damage. Kash bends for a closer look, but Pearl can’t take her eyes off the immense, luxurious garden vista wrapped around them like a cloak. Deep green as far as she can see, dotted with ornate fountains. Sculpted boxwood hedges, cypress trees reaching heavenward, like arrows. Occasional crumbling ruins out of place amongst such symmetry and balance.

An old man in long white robes ambles across the lawn with the aid of a gnarled staff. Vanishes into a distant copse. The lawns are amazing. Everything in this place is amazing.

“First thing to know, don’t mind the animals,” says Nettie once they’ve left the crowd behind. “Not a one of ’em’s for real. Not dangerous, all totally built for show.”

“Not real how?”

“Mechanicals,” she continues, “but you could never tell from looking. They stink every bit as much as the real thing.”

The twins nod, because if it’s one thing they are familiar with, it’s the stench of starving, feral beasts with matted fur and dirty claws coming at you once the lights are out.

But the animals gamboling on the lawns are different to anything they’ve seen; so sleek and healthy, clean and beautiful. They pause to admire two mighty loping creatures. Freeze as one tags the heels of the other till they tumble in a playful heap.

Nettie laughs. “Like kittens, really, only bigger. Black one’s jaguar, the stripes is called a tiger.”

“But not real?” says Pearl.

“Hell no,” says Nettie, slapping the air. “But they’ll still run a mile if you try to pat them. Authentic programming in memory of the beasts that once were living. Lots of things are memorial in this place.”

Kash wants to speak but Pearl gives him a nudge. First thing’s figuring where they stand. Who to trust and who must be avoided.

The list of things she wants to ask grows with every step. Lefty food? And what about the children—are they dangerous? She’s known children who would shiv you with a shard of glass for half a moldy crust, but Calvaria does not seem like that kind of place.

Nettie wipes her nose on her wrist. “Spose she’ll want me to rattle the entirety.” Takes a deep gulp of air before beginning.

“Calvaria’s what they call Italianate. You know: topiary, obelisks, orbs, columns, cones and domes. Focal points to lead the eye, providing balance and a sense of drama.” Nettie strikes a theatrical pose and rolls her eyes. “Whole thing’s inspired by the Greeks and Romans. One pinched it off the other—I can never remember which way round it goes.”

Calvaria is the neatest place Pearl has ever seen, all clean, geometric shapes and lines. Climbing roses and lilypond terraces. Marble lion’s head fountains spewing crystal water.

“And Madame Bastarache,” asks Pearl, “is she Italianate as well?”

Nettie giggles. “Lotta rumors going round about where she’s from and what she might be hiding under those skirts— if you know what I mean .”

Pearl doesn’t know, but nods. “What did Madame mean about the children?”

“Nasty little shits,” says Nettie. “Don’t go near them tis my best advice.”

Nettie’s limp becomes more pronounced as they continue. But Pearl is too distracted by a fortune’s worth of lemon trees with overladen branches to ask why. Fallen lemons unclaimed on the grass. Bunny rabbits, plump and fluffy, unconcerned by people walking near.

After an hour spent crossing vast swathes of verdant, spongy lawn and a thousand wonders, including hedge mazes and sky glistening with unnatural sheen, and miniature versions of famous structures from old magazines: Arc de Triomphe, Acropolis of Athens, Rome Colosseum, the twins are shown to a little cottage nestled amongst others. Each one different, every garden blooming with curling fronds and pudgy blossoms, thick, fleshy leaves, creeping vines in shades of green with silver-gray stripes.

“All yours,” says Nettie. “I’ll leave youse both to settle in and tomorrow we’ll get started on the training.” She spins on translucent heels and heads back along the leaf-strewn path, pausing after a few steps. “One more thing,” she calls over her shoulder, “mind you don’t get up to anything you don’t want that lot knowing about.” She nods in the direction of Calvaria’s Manor House, gives a cheery little wave and totters off.

Peapod cottage says the engraved plaque cemented to the ivy-covered wall. Small, but neat. Less pokey than it seems from the outside. The kitchen table has places set for two. A fruit basket, fresh baked loaf and cheese.

Kash lunges, tears off chunks to stuff into his mouth.

“Hell’s sake . . . use the knife!” Pearl’s mouth waters as she sits and reaches for the cheese. Their last meal had been two days back. Watery gruel bulked up with insect protein.

“This can’t be real,” she says with her mouth full. “Gotta be a catch. There has to be.”

“Wing implants.”

She nods, cringing.

“And tigers. Maybe we turn out to be their dinner.”

“This lefty food is tasty.”

“Maybe it turns into poison in our stomachs?”

Pearl shakes her head. “But why bother? They paid for us, they must want us for something.” She casts her eye over the kitchen: grainy burled wood with earthy mottling. Smooth floors of ivory painted brick. A hearth, blue and white patterned wall tiles. Dangling copper-bottomed pots and pans.

A well-thumbed book with a bright yellow cover sits, partly obscured by the basket’s rattan bulk. She tugs it free and flips through tatty pages.


“The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography.” She holds the page up close to her face. “Print’s too small. Smells musty.”

“Like a catalogue of faeries and stuff?”

“Not really. There’s no pictures.”

He shrugs. “Somebody ripped them out, maybe?”

Closer examination reveals jagged tears in several places. She closes the book and puts it back on the table. “Kash—the mansion song we followed could only be about Calvaria.” She closes her eyes and sings:


“When we gaze in silent rapture,

On our many mansions fair;

We shall know how sweet the promise

Of a home, forever there.”


She opens her eyes. “Finney’s favorite song. Remember?”

Kash nods, his mouth too full for speaking.

After slaking their thirsts with jug after jug of water, the twins discover two identical bedrooms snuggled side by side. They take the smaller, falling asleep as soon as their heads hit pillows. 


Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning Australian author, editor and artist. Career highlights include a PhD in science fiction and climate fiction, five years as Fiction Editor of Cosmos Magazine, running Agog! Press, working as an archaeological dig photographer in Jordan, studying with Margaret Atwood, 78 published short stories, two collections— The Bride Price (2013) and Dark Harvest (2020) and a far future novel, Lotus Blue. She directed two speculative fiction festivals for Writing NSW and is a regular panelist & speaker at speculative fiction and other literary events.

Kaaron Warren has been publishing ground-breaking fiction for over twenty years. Her novels and short stories have won over 20 awards, from local literary to international genre. She writes horror steeped in awful reality, with ghosts, hauntings, guilt, loss, love, crime, punishment and a lack of hope. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Eat Like an Author: Judith Krummeck

When most people get bored, they eat. When I get bored, I brainstorm new series and features for the blog, and THEN eat. A couple years ago, as I was brainstorming and contemplating what I wanted to eat, I thought how cool it would be to have a mini-foodie series where authors share the things they like to eat. Photos and recipes and all. And so I asked them, and amazingly they responded, and I dubbed it EAT LIKE AN AUTHOR. 

Today, Judith Krummeck shared with us a Ukrainian dish to help us celebrate her new novel The Deceived Ones. 




When Vira becomes a refugee from the war in Ukraine, she is sponsored in the U.S. through the Uniting for Ukraine program by Peta Masters who is vegan. By way of a thank you, Vira prepares for Peta a Ukrainian meal that includes vegan Holubsti, which are a type of Ukrainian cabbage roll. 



Credit for photos go to Yvette Freter.
Credit also to the sous chef Lizzy 

Author: Anastasia

Prep Time: 20 min

Cook Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Yield: 12 rolls

Category: Main course

Cuisine: Ukrainian



  1. Cook bulgur wheat in 1 cup of water for 10 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.
  2. To peel the cabbage first cut out the stem. Put the head into a large pot with boiling water and blanch for about 3 minutes. Turn the head and cook for another 3 minutes. If your cabbage is young it might take less time to soften.
  3. Take out the cabbage and let it cool. Gently peel the leaves and set aside. (Use leftover cabbage in another recipe. You can throw it in soups.)
  4. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion until soft and translucent. Then add garlic and stir for a minute. Throw in grated carrot and sauté for 3 minutes or so.
  5. Now add spices, cooked bulgur, brown sugar, and vegetable bouillon. Stir until all liquid is absorbed and remove from the heat.
  6. Next heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Again sauté onion until soft and then add garlic and carrot. Cook for few more minutes. Add dried oregano, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes, salt, black pepper and water. Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 355°F.
  8. Place 2 cabbage leaves on a bottom of Dutch oven. Scoop some of the filling onto a cabbage leaf and fold it into a roll. Place in the Dutch oven and repeat.
  9. When sauce is ready purée it with immersion blender. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.
  10. Save about 1 cup of sauce for later and pour the rest on top of your cabbage rolls. Cover and put in the oven for 1-2 hours, the longer the better.
  11. Serve vegan stuffed cabbage rolls with extra sauce on top.



Judith Krummeck is a writer, broadcaster, and immigrant. She is the evening drive time host for Baltimore’s classical music station, WBJC, 91.5FM, and her debut novel, The Deceived Ones, a contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, is being published this spring. Her biographical memoir, Old New Worlds, intertwining her immigrant story with her great-great grandmother’s, came out in 2019. In 2014, she published the chapbook, Beyond the Baobab, a memoir in essays about her immigration from Africa to America. www.judithkrummeck.com



Displaced by the Russian invasion, Vira, carrying little but her precious viola da gamba, is a refugee in the Uniting for Ukraine program. When she is physically attacked soon after her arrival in the United States, the terrifying experience prompts her to hide in plain sight by passing as her twin, Sevastyan, until he is able join her.


Orson has been commissioned to write an opera for The Twelfth Night Festival, but he is suffering from composer’s block. Not only that, his muse, Isabella, has inexplicably withdrawn from all performing. During a chance meeting, Orson discovers the extraordinary musical talent of Vira, now passing as Sevastyan, and it gives him the jolt of inspiration he needs. Hoping that Isabella will be as intrigued as he is, Orson sends “Sevastyan” as his emissary to persuade Isabella to sing in his opera.


In this love-quadrangle seen from multiple points of view—some poignant, some hilarious—the myriad misconceptions that result from Vira’s deception are woven into themes of migration, sexuality, and diversity.

 Purchase your copy here

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Audio Series: Lies, All Lies


Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was originally hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. It's a fun little series, where authors record themselves reading an excerpt from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Today, Paul Chitlik joins us, reading an excerpt from his recently released book Lies, All Lies. Paul has written for all the major networks and studios in English and in Spanish.  He was story editor for MGM/UA'S "The New Twilight Zone," and staff writer for Showtime's sitcom "Brothers."  He has written features for Rysher Entertainment, NuImage, Promark, Mainline Releasing, and others.  He has directed episodes and been coordinating producer for “Real Stories of the Highway Patrol” and “U.S. Customs Classified.”  He wrote and produced “Alien Abduction,” the first network movie shot on digital video for UPN.  He wrote, produced, and directed “Ringling Brothers Revealed” a special for The Travel Channel.  (He had been a roustabout for Circus Vargas years earlier.)  Most recently he wrote, produced and directed “The Wedding Dress,” for Amazon Prime.  He received a Writers Guild of America award nomination for his work on "The Twilight Zone" and a GLAAD Media Award nomination for "Los Beltrán,” a Telemundo show.  He won a Genesis Award for a Showtime Family movie.

He has taught in the MFA programs of UCLA, the University of Barcelona’s film school ESCAC, Cuba’s film school EICTV, Chile’s film school UNIACC, The University of Zulia in Venezuela, The Panamerican University in Mexico City, The Story Academy of Sweden and as a clinical associate professor at Loyola Marymount University.  Now writing full time again and living near his grandson in Chapel Hill, NC, with wife, Beth McCauley.

Click on the soundcloud link below to hear Paul reading from Lies, All Lies

What it's about:

There I stood, all five eight of me, poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, soaking wet in my retro bathing suit, holding a dry pair of tickets to the Emmys that night, in front of a gorgeous woman, and I didn’t know who I was, where I was, or why I was. Or, just as importantly, who she was and what she was to me. Over the course of the next few days I discovered I was a thirty-something Emmy winning writer-actor showrunning a popular sitcom, but I had to learn about that one detail at a time until my memory came back. Then I realized I could be anyone I wanted to be, but I had to decide who that was and what that would mean for my girlfriend, my wife, my kids, my father, my brother, my cast, my agent, my PR maven, my assistant, and a 135 other people who depended on me for their livelihoods or their lives.I had the opportunity to change my life completely, and I did, eventually doing something real for other people while my gay sitcom character came out as straight and flipped the script on my show and my life.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Indie Spotlight: Dave Carty

Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!

Today, we are joined by Dave Carty, as he shares the how and why behind his April release 

Red Is The Fastest Color

Check it out! 

Red Is The Fastest Color – the Why and How


I wanted to write a book about friendship, and the important part it plays in the lives of people, especially those who are older, who aren’t in thrall to the hurricane swirl of emotions that is youth. What does it mean? How does it work? Is it worth the effort?

In Red Is The Fastest Color, a woman ailing with Parkinson’s disease calls her brother to ask for help. Her husband, Ben, despite his heroic efforts and devotion, is unable to manage the simultaneous demands of caring for his wife and the upkeep on their small Montana acreage. Jamison, the protagonist, agrees to move in with them, until…  But what happens then is never broached, for all the characters understand the progression of Parkinson’s disease, a disease that has robbed Monna, Ben’s wife, of her ability to paint, the driving passion in her life.

Balancing the complex emotional lives of three people, all of them no longer young, was no easy task. Ben and Jamison are wary of each other at first, and Ben gruffly rejects Jamison’s timid attempts at broaching a friendship. But when Monna’s health takes a turn for the worse, he finally reaches out to Jamison in desperation.

There are a couple of things I didn’t want to accomplish with this novel. I’ve spent all my adult life in the west, first in Colorado, and now, for nearly forty years, in Montana. I’ve grown up with, known, and (too often) drank with cowboys, farmers and ranchers. But too many books set in Montana and elsewhere in the west, by default, are considered “cowboy” books, when, in fact, the vast majority of people in the west don’t live on a ranch and don’t own a horse. I wanted to get away from the mythical west and explore the real west – the west filled with people who have emotional lives like everyone else, but whose lives are indelibly shaped by the magnificent land they live in.

The Greeks had at least three ways of defining love: eros, philos and agape. Only eros is defined as the romantic love so popular in modern novels and movies. But it was philos they considered the ideal.  In the way most of us would understand it, philos means brotherly love, relinquishing a part of yourself for  friendship. Red speaks to eros – the love between Ben and Monna, and philos, the brotherly love between Jamison and Ben. Woven between the two is this story.



Dave Carty attended Colorado State University and the University of Colorado, where he majored in journalism. Throughout his early twenties he labored in a variety of mostly unskilled jobs. In his late twenties he sold his first article to a regional humor magazine, then went on to write for an array of national publications and, for the next 35 years, made his living almost exclusively by writing. To date he has published over 1000 articles in national magazines. He is the author of a collection of essays, Born Again At the Laundromat (upon which the Library Journal likened him the “Charles Kuralt of the West,”) and the novel Leaves On Frozen Ground, a haunting family drama set on the south shore of Lake Superior (Guernica Editions 2019). He lives in a small, two-story home he built for himself near Bozeman, Montana.



About Red Is The Fastest Color

Jamison Everett, a shy and lonely man with few friends, is a retired high school English teacher. When his artist sister, Monna, who is suffering from Parkinson's Disease, calls and asks for his help, he reluctantly agrees to leave his apartment in Minneapolis and temporarily relocate to her remote Montana town. Perhaps, in caring for his sister, he will find the friendship he longs for. But Monna's fiercely independent husband, Ben, has a different game plan. Parkinson's has robbed Monna of her ability to paint, and if the doctors won't cure her, then by god he'll do it — by sheer force of will. Jamison, summoning his courage, offers to help, and an alliance is born. Yet neither man can know how much their nascent friendship will ask of them. Only Monna senses what is coming.

Grab a copy here

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

What I Read in March

 Well, it wasn't a record breaking month for me as far as total books read but those I did read were pretty darn good! I got through a total of 9 in March, with one of those being for publicity purposes so I won't include it here. 

Take a look at all the books that just blew me away!!

My Work by Olga Ravn

I had read and loved The Employees so when I saw My Work while browsing the book shelves, you better believe I grabbed it without even really reading the jacket copy.

This one is about pregnancy and motherhood and postpartum depression and the fear that you are losing your shit and trying to journal your journey in case you DO actually lose your shit because getting it all down might be the key to remaining sane, only now you're not sure if you are the one who wrote the stuff you just found or if someone else or perhaps another version of you has written it... and we the reader aren't totally sure of this either.

There a numerous beginnings, middles, and ends. The entries and poems and narrations are not necessarily in any real sort of order. And there's this section of about 100 pages or so that just drags on kinda painfully and repetitively.

A little uneven, a little weird - even for me - and quite the trip down insanity lane the deeper into the book you go. I'm not quite sure what I read there at the end, honestly...

What Mother Won't Tell Me by Ivar Leon Menger

This was a complete impulse buy as I was browsing the bookshelves in the thriller section (a section of the bookstore I don't normally spend time in). The cover and the description screamed buy me, so I did!

I felt it was a little closer to isolation fiction than full on thriller. The tension ran slow and low, but the atmosphere was cranked way up. One of the blurbers described it best as a cross between Hansel and Gretel and Mommie Dearest.

Our narrator, a fifteen year old girl names Juno, lives on a remote island with her Mother, Father, and little brother Boy. For the most part, she's grown up doing all the things regular siblings would do - play games, read books, do their math, learn about nature and how to live off the land. But they also live in fear of the strangers - people from the mainland who wish to do them harm, and from whom they are hiding. Mother promises that as long as they follow the seven commandments she's established, they reduce the risk of being found. Break one of them, though, and both Juno and Boy will suffer the punishment.

That is, until Juno fails to make it back to the cabin in time to hide when the postman arrives. He spots her and she feels compelled to appeal to his kindness, begging him not to let her parents know he's seen her, afraid she'll get in trouble. This encounter kickstarts a chain of events that will leave Juno questioning everything she thought she knew about her home, her family, and herself. What is left for you to hang on to when your entire world begins to unravel right before your eyes?

What Mother Won't Tell Me is an exceptionally quick read. The only thing that was a bit off putting was how young the author made Juno sound though I suppose you could chalk that up to the fact that she grew up completely secluded on an island, with no contact to other kids her age. Overall, a unique look at dysfunctional family dynamics and childhood trauma.

These Things Linger by Dan Franklin

I love when I'm pitched a book I hadn't previously heard about and it ends up being right up my alley!

These Things Linger is ghost horror. But it's also grief horror. And supernatural horror. And small town horror. And oooh yaaassss... it's down-right unputdownable horror.

Alex was raised by his Uncle Matty. Some of his best memories were from time spent together fishing and shooting. One evening, after his uncle hits him in the face with a beer bottle, Alex breaks ties with man and moves away to carve out a life of his own. Years later, engaged with a baby on the way, his learns that Uncle Matty unexpectedly dies. Alex receives notice that he's inherited the trailer he grew up in and feels compelled to make peace. He drives out to the place, unhitches the beat up old boat and takes it out for one last trip to the middle of the lake. In a moment of pure grief, he summons his dead uncle and brings something much darker and a helluva lot more dangerous across with him.

At its core, These Things Linger is a story of love, loss, desperation, forgiveness, and survival. But it's also much more than that. It's a horror novel with heart and carries quite a few gut punches that will linger with you long after the book ends.

So glad this one ended up in my hands. A must read for horror fans!

Letters to the Purple Satin Killer by Joshua Chaplinsky

In Letters to the Purple Satin Killer, we get to know the sadistic serial killer Jonas Williker solely through the letters he received while he was locked away in prision, awaiting the outcome of his trial.

His mother, an old childhood friend, an ex-girlfriend and her daughter, a lonely woman looking for a penpal, the one who got away, fanatics and crazies, a wanna be author, one of the jurors, even a cop who ended up crossing paths with him out in the real world before putting two and two together - they all write him on the regular. And through them, and their letters, we begin to piece together who Jonas was back when, who he is now, or what he could be, to each of them. They love him, they hate him, they want him, they want to hurt him, they are hurt by him, they want to be loved by him...

I wasn't sure how I was going to like it but it didn't take long to realize I was already hooked. Full transparency, for a hot minute I actually wondered if Joshua was writing a fictional account of an actual serial killer. I no-shame googled the name, the states and type of murders, just to make sure I wasn't missing something, it was that good.

And since we're in a no-shame kind of mood, I also don't mind telling you that the last letter... it might have made my eyes a little wet. Damn you Chaplinsky!

It's a really cool addition to the serial killer fiction that's out there and a book that shouldn't fly under anyone's radar. If you're reading this review, you gotta go read this book!

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Oh gosh this book. The prose is chimeral and sorrowful and fragmented. It's familiar, like a sister to Helen Phillips or Laura van den Berg. It's sparse and experimental and it's stabbing me right in the feels, even still, a full day away from having finished it. It's a brainworm. It's very digestible, like a delicious dessert, but it's deceiving because it takes up so much space. It's lovely but it makes my heart ache.

From the Belly by Emmett Nahil

Aquatic horror for the win! And that cover.. I just knew I had to have it!

A whaling ship gets more than they bargain for when a barely-alive man spills out of the belly of their first kill. Under the captain's orders, the unconscious stranger is locked in the brig and crewmate Isiah is tasked with splitting his rations with the man until they can decide what to do with him.

Once the rescued man awakens, strange things begin to happen on board The Merciful and the crew starts to slowly descend into madness as they begin to show signs of mysterious and frightening illnesses. Though he cannot immediately prove it, Isiah knows this is not just a string of bad luck and believes the enigmatic man they locked away below deck is somehow behind it all, and if his dreams are anything to go by, he's terrified they won't survive long enough to make it back to port.

From the Belly is atmospheric and claustrophobic and at times downright brutal. This is not your run of the mill Geppetto story. This is a "what the hell did we bring onboard" story. And a "you can't outrun the horrors that await you" story. And it's sooo good you guys.

The Collector by Laura Kat Young

#bookstagram made me buy it! It might not have made it onto my radar otherwise, so I'm glad I caught it while scrolling my feed. A little weird once you get to "Part Two" but still, sooo good.

Imagine a dystopian world where the government prides itself on ensuring everyone is happy. All of the time. Just smiling and loving life and being happy. And imagine your job is to visit people who have been reported for being a little sad or showing signs of grief so you can record their most cherished memory for The Catalog before their brains are reset. Because the government can't allow anyone to show signs of sadness, or to feel depressed, or to grieve. And imagine how all that collecting of all those memories might start to weigh on you, and so you start to break a few rules. Just little transgressions. Nothing too crazy. Like coming home every day after dropping off those recordings and writing down those memories in a notebook that you keep hidden in the wall. And then during one of your collections, you make a poor decision, a decision of the heart. And then imagine having someone knock on your door to ask you a few questions because YOU've been reported for not seeming like your normal happy self...

It felt a bit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-ish, only not voluntary. It's soft and gentle and subversive, and just absolutely nuts. If you liked Jesse Ball's A Cure For Suicide, you want to get your hands on this one!

Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker

This is another #bookstagrammademedoit book. #FOMO much?!

Full disclosure: I went in expecting it to be something quite different than what it is. That's not to say I didn't like it, because I did. But where I anticipated speculative fiction and magicial realism and the exploration of gateways to different worlds (aka Jeff Vandermeer style), I instead found myself engrossed in grief fiction following a character who is quickly becoming separated from reality.

What you need to know is that David, as a child, was very close to his grandfather. His grandfather believed there was more to this world than we knew, and he was determined to crack the multiverse code. Then, suddenly, amidst a worldwide crisis in which people begin to go missing and unidentifable bodies started popping up in strange places, David's grandfather also disappears. His parents tell him he died, but there were no hospital visits (like there were when his grandmother got sick), and no funeral. David is convinced that his parents are lying to him, and that his grandfather successfully crossed over to a different world, and he becomes determined to find him.

Mothtown is broken up into two alternating parts, Before and After. But where the actual split has occured appears to be left to the reader to decide - before and after when David learns of the death/disappearance of his grandfather at the age of 10? Before and after the discovery of his grandfather's book of instructions in the thrift store as an adult? Before and after his first meeting with Michael, the man with the maps and the knowledge of where the doors are located? Maybe, possibly, yes, to all of it.

I think Nils Shukla's blurb explains it best, "a tale about discovering how to belong". It's a book about feeling unstuck and uncomfortable in your own skin. It's tender and twisted. It's desperate and dripping with dread, but its pages are also imbued with a desire to find the space where your body fits best.