Novel Review: The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

Summary: Somethings happening to the girls on Denton Street. It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh. As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart. Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

Content Warnings: Teenage Pregnancy, Child Abuse, Body Horror

Review: Many reviewers have already written pages of praise and adulation for Gwendolyn Kiste’s full-length novel so let me cut right to the chase: this is a wonderful coming-of-age story for the horror fan, period.

Kiste writes beautifully here, crafting this dilapidated Cleveland neighborhood like any other Gothic novel’s beautiful ruined castles. It’s the most believable American neighborhood imaginable, and it’s made all the more frightening because of its “American values” as its girls transform into visions of decay and ruin.

Because the monster here definitely is not any of the Rust Maidens. The closest thing to a one-dimensional monster in the novel is the owner of the mill, but the real fear and dread come extensively from the adult members of Phoebe’s neighborhood. As Phoebe’s narrative makes clear again and again, the mistakes and terrible decisions thrust on the Rust Maidens are only an extension of how her neighbors generally ruin girls’ lives through their judgmental attitudes, gossiping, and refusal to give them agency that they’re happy to celebrate in their husbands. Even if the perceived agency is again circumvented by the mechanics of capitalism (as seen through the constant image of the mill strike).

Thankfully, the book isn’t all doom and gloom. For all the terrible things that happen throughout the book and the apathy of so many people, Phoebe’s story is also about renewal, redemption, and the unconditional love in a true friendship. Her relationship with Jacqueline, her utter refusal to forget the Rust Maidens as the rest of the town continues to ignore their choices, all of these factors make it a beautiful read.

If I had a complaint, I’d say that this suburb seems particularly white-washed even for Cleveland. There aren’t any characters of color, not even amongst agents from the government or tourists that visit the town from all over. In a narrative about how women are treated like so much trash, the specific trials of a woman of color would make a hell of a lot of sense.

Nonetheless, you can’t go wrong with The Rust Maidens if you’re looking for a bittersweet, Gothic read this Halloween.

Rating: ★★★★ of 5 stars!

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Classics Review: The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James

Summary: Considered by many to be the most terrifying writer in English, M. R. James was an eminent scholar who spent his entire adult life in the academic surroundings of Eton and Cambridge. His classic supernatural tales draw on the terrors of the everyday, in which documents and objects unleash terrible forces, often in closed rooms and nighttime settings where imagination runs riot. Lonely country houses, remote inns, ancient churches or the manuscript collections of great libraries provide settings for unbearable menace from creatures seeking retribution and harm. These stories have lost none of their power to unsettle and disturb.

Content Warnings: Period-typical Sexism and Racism, Child Death, Body Horror

Review: Montage Rhodes James is often considered the best writer of ghost stories in the English language, particularly in the niche of the antiquarian ghost story. Considering that reputation, the moment a used copy of his collected ghost stories showed up in a book store during a trip to New York City, I just had to pick it up for myself. What better way to see if his reputation is deserved?

Thankfully, James’ stories were delightfully creepy and kept me engaged this entire week.

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Collection Review: Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt

Summary: In his striking debut collection, Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt shows why he is a powerful new voice in horror and literary weird fiction.

From the round-robin, found-footage nightmare of “October Film Haunt: Under the House” (selected for The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror) to the jazz-soaked “The Devil Under the Maison Blue” (selected for both The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and Year’s Best Weird Fiction), these beautifully crafted, emotionally resonant stories speak of the unknown encroaching upon the familiar, the inscrutable power of grief and desire, and the thinness between all our layers. Where nature rubs against small towns, in mountains and woods and bedrooms, here is strangeness seen through a poet’s eye.

They say there are always greener pastures. These stories consider the cost of that promise.

Content Warning: Body Horror, Incest, CSA, Rape

Review: Thus far, the best short story collection I have read this year has been the amazing She Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin. But if I had to pick a distinct second so far, Greener Pastures definitely qualifies.

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Novel Review: Clickers II The Next Wave by J.F. Gonzalez and Brian Keene

Summary: The first wave was just the beginning . . . 

The United States is in ruins. It has just suffered one of the worst hurricanes in history, the people are demoralized, and the president is a religious fanatic. Then things get really bad – the Clickers return. Thousands of the monsters swarm across the entire nation and march inland, slaughtering anyone and anything they come across. But this time the Clickers aren’t blindly rushing onto land – they are being led by an intelligence older than civilization itself. A force that wants to take dry land away from the mammals. Those left alive soon realize that they must do everything and anything they can to protect humanity – no matter the cost.

This isn’t war, this is extermination.

Content Warnings: Rape, Gore, Mutilation, Child Death, Body Horror

Review: Not too long ago, I immersed myself in the world of Clickers by J.F. Gonzalez and Mark Williams. I found it to be an entertaining B-movie romp with a disappointing scene and one very annoying, racist Sheriff. Considering my enjoyment, I thought reading the second Clickers novel would be a really fun choice for a summer vacation read.

I found myself asking, “Could this match or even overcome the detriments of the original?”

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Novel Review: The Red Tree by Caitlín Kieran

Summary: Sarah Crowe left Atlanta—and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship—to live in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant—an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property. Tied to local legends of supernatural magic, as well as documented accidents and murders, the gnarled tree takes root in Sarah’s imagination, prompting her to write her own account of its unsavory history. And as the oak continues to possess her dreams and nearly almost all her waking thoughts, Sarah risks her health and her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago…

Content Warnings: Suicidal Idealization, Suicide, Mentioned Cannibalism, Mentioned Body Horror

Review: For a long time, I’ve wanted to read Caitlín Kiernan even before finding out she’s one of the most popular contemporary queer horror writers working right now. This was why I bought one of her most popular books, The Red Tree, late last year. It helped that the book proudly bore several things I enjoy: a cosmic sort of ghost story in a New England setting, folklore, and an epistolary writing style.

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(Novella Review) The Fearing: Book One Fire & Rain by John F.D. Taff

Disclaimer: I received a physical copy free from Grey Matter Press, but this does not change my opinion on the book. Every single word typed in my review is one hundred percent my own, honest opinion.

Summary: In the American high desert, vacationers returning from a road trip are thrust into a heart-stopping flight from death as they try to avoid a cataclysmic end. In rural Missouri, the lives of a group of high school students are destroyed after their small town is devastated and they’re forced to confront the end of everything they’ve ever known.

And on the eastern seaboard, there’s someone else. An enigmatic man who thrives on despair and embraces all fear. A man with his own dark and sinister goals. Someone who wants to ensure humanity goes out with the biggest bang possible.

Review: What would happen if every single fear in the minds and hearts of Americans came true in one day? What if it caused the end of the world?  Continue reading “(Novella Review) The Fearing: Book One Fire & Rain by John F.D. Taff”

Collection Review: Kowabana Vol. 1 translated by Tara A. Devlin

Summary: Kowabana: ‘True’ Japanese scary stories from around the internet is a collection of anonymous horror tales collected and translated from the occult forum on the Japanese website ‘2chan’ and originally published on my website Kowabana.net. Presented as true stories that really happened to the author these are tales of Japanese ghosts, murder, suicide, revenge, cursed objects and other strange happenings. These are comparable to the Western phenomenon of the ‘creepypasta’ but with a Japanese twist.

In this book you’ll find 111 translated stories set across Japan. From the rice fields of the countryside to cramped apartments in big cities, public toilets and old abandoned buildings, shrines in the middle of nowhere and crowded trains full of perhaps not just people, here you’ll find horror unique to Japan and in a way only they know how to do.

Trigger Warnings: Mention of Pedophilia, Suicide, Suicidal Idealization, Body Horror

Review: Creepypasta is an interesting subgenre not only of horror but of the campfire story. It’s inherently tied to the internet, usually kept anonymous, and usually told in a direct manner. Taken at face value, a good creepypasta story scares the reader without making them question the plausibility of the story.

Continue reading “Collection Review: Kowabana Vol. 1 translated by Tara A. Devlin”

Novel Review: The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

Summary: This remarkable novel begins in 1850s Louisiana, where Gilda escapes slavery and learns about freedom while working in a brothel. After being initiated into eternal life as one who “shares the blood” by two women there, Gilda spends the next two hundred years searching for a place to call home. An instant lesbian classic when it was first published in 1991, The Gilda Stories has endured as an auspiciously prescient book in its explorations of blackness, radical ecology, re-definitions of family, and yes, the erotic potential of the vampire story.

Trigger Warnings: Attempted Rape, Domestic Abuse, Racism, Racial Slurs (mostly mild)

Review: Although I call it a novel in the title, Jewelle Gomez’s queer classic reads more like a collection of short stories. Despite the omnipresent narrator of each story, Gilda, our bisexual Black heroine, remains the central focus of the book, a character both explored in all her complexities and who explores the opportunities and complexities of the human existence.

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Opinion: Criticism Will Never Be Censorship

Today, on the book blogging site Ink Heist, horror author Karen Runge wrote a piece concerning censorship called The Frankenstein Effect. In the essay, Runge compares the old, popular misconception of Frankenstein being the monster rather than the Doctor to the general public’s misunderstandings of horror media. The author then claims that these misunderstandings and preconceptions lead to the general censorship of horror, especially the Extreme Horror she enjoys writing.

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