Paula Guran Reviews My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

My Heart Is a Chainsaw, Stephen Graham Jones (Saga 978-1-982137-63-2, $26.99. 416pp, hc) August 31, 2021.

I am not a fan of slasher films, but I know enough – as just about anyone with any pop cultural awareness does – to soundly appreci­ate Stephen Graham Jones’s use of the subgenre he so brilliantly employs in My Heart Is a Chain­saw. Not being a slasher aficionado means there’s at ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Fantasy, Nightmare, and The Dark

Fantasy 5/21, 6/21 Nightmare 5/21, 6/21 The Dark 5/21, 6/21

Fantasy #67 is the strongest issue yet in its new in­carnation. “Like Birdsong, the Memory of Your Touch” by Izzy Wasserstein packs a great deal into 700 words, including a near-future scenario in which nature triumphs over humankind and a relationship ends. P.H. Low‘s “Disenchant­ment” is bittersweet. A girl is born with a hole in ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Uncanny and Apex

Uncanny 5-6/21 Apex #124

Uncanny #40 is full of good fiction. Fran Wilde‘s novelette “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” leads off. Gowns made by the legendary Unseelie Brothers atelier have brought everyone in Sera Sebastian’s life together: her Aunt Vanessa and her husband, her father and her mother (who vanished not long after Sera’s birth). The shop, which disappears for periods of time and then appears at varying locations, ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Big, Dark Hole by Jeffrey Ford

Big, Dark Hole, Jeffrey Ford (Small Beer Press 978-1-618-73184-5, $17, 320pp, tp) July 2021.

No matter how bizarre a situation is or may rapidly become in a Jeffrey Ford story, the reader feels instantly at home, open and accepting of everything that one should never be open and accepting of. In “The Match”, from new collection Big, Dark Hole, an adjunct professor gets a letter in the mail ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews The Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro

The Queen of the Cicadas, V. Castro (Flame Tree Press 978-1-787-58603-1, $24.95, 224pp, hc) June 2021.

Fortyish Belinda Montoya, protagonist of The Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro, has overcome a great deal in her life. Despite racism and a dis­advantaged Texas childhood, she became an at­torney in Philadelphia, but things aren’t going all that well now. After two divorces and in the midst of a strained relationship ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Moon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale

Moon Lake, Joe R. Lansdale (Mulholland Books 978-0-316-54064-3, $28 352pp, hc) June 2021.

Joe R. Lansdale is a masterful storyteller with a distinct, often drawling voice. His novels are vivid yarns that connect with the reader faster than greased lightning. Set in the fictional town of New Long Lincoln, East Texas, Moon Lake begins in 1968 – just past the “time when cars were big and the American dream ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise

Wendy, Darling, A.C. Wise (Titan 978-1-78909-681-1 $15.95 336pp, tp) June 2021.

At the end of J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy (also known as Peter Pan), Wendy, her brothers and the Lost Boys adopted by their parents have all grown up. Wendy is married and has a daughter, Jane, whom she’s filled with tales of their adventures in Neverland. When Peter Pan shows up at the nursery window, ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Apex, Nightmare, and Black Static

Apex #123 Nightmare 4/21 Black Static 78-79

Apex #123 presents six original stories. Technol­ogy allows the protagonist of “This Is the Mo­ment, Or One of Them” by Mari Ness to review and “shift,” if she desires, some of her memories of a relationship. That’s a far too simplistic de­scription of a story with both subtle nuance and profound consideration of life choices. Just read it. “Throw Rug ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Uncanny and The Dark

Uncanny 3-4/21 The Dark 3/21, 4/21

Uncanny #39 starts off well, and the issue continues in the same admirable vein. It is highly likely that whatever you be might be expecting from Catherynne M. Valente‘s marvelously descriptive “The Sin of America” is not what the story delivers. It is also likely that however dark you are expecting this tale of Ruby-Rose Martineau, who is eating the sins ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Sorrowland, Rivers Solomon (MCD 978-0-374-26677-6, $27.00 268pp, hc) May 2021.

Fifteen-year-old Vern Fields – abused, Black, pregnant, albino, nearly blind – escapes cult compound the Blessed Acres of Cain and its leader, her husband, fleeing into a forest. There she gives birth to twin boys she names Howling and Feral. She is prepared to survive in the wild by her upbringing in Cain­land: founded by Black nationalists in the ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews The Bridge by J.S. Breukelaar

The Bridge, J.S. Breukelaar (Meerkat Press 978-1-946154-44-6 $15.95 227pp, tp) June 2021.

J.S. Breukelaar’s The Bridge may be a challeng­ing read for some, but it is certainly a rewarding one. Breukelaar immediately immerses the reader in a complex world with a complicated protagonist. Information is integrated seamlessly into the plot and everything becomes clearer only as one continues to read. Meera is a “Made” – created by the “Father” ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales by Angela Slat­ter

The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, Angela Slat­ter (Tarturus 978-1-912586-24-0, £40.00, 452pp, hc) March 2021. Cover by Kathleen Jennings.

We are barely into 2021 and Angela Slatter is already having quite a year. A novel (All the Murmuring Bones as A.G. Slatter) and a collection of microfiction (Red New Day and Other Microfictions) were both reviewed here last month. Add The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales to the ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Uncanny, Apex, The Dark, Nightmare, Fantasy, and Baffling

Uncanny 1-2/21 Apex #122 The Dark 1/21, 2/21 Nightmare 1/21, 2/21 Fantasy 2/21, 3/21 Baffling 1/21

Uncanny #38 is a strong issue. Sam J. Miller‘s “Tyrannosaurus Hex” posits a future in which alternative realities can be all too real. The story is particularly chilling (and resonates as true) with children as the “early adaptors.” “A House Full of Voices Is Never Empty” by Miyuki Jane ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Never Have I Ever: Stories by Isabel Yap

Never Have I Ever: Stories, Isabel Yap (Small Beer 978-1-61873-182-1, $17.00, 248pp, tp) March 2021.

Isabel Yap’s debut collection Never Have I Ever offers a wide variety of stories. They range from the definitely horrific “Good Girls” (The Retreat is a place intended to reform bad girls; whether it works on its young inmates is, in general, an open question, but it definitely doesn’t work for the monstrous Kaye) ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews All the Murmuring Bones and Red New Day by An­gela Slatter

All the Murmuring Bones, A.G. Slatter (Titan 978-1-78909-434-3, $15.95, 368pp, tp) March 2021.

All the Murmuring Bones is A.G. Slatter’s (a semi-pseudonym of Australian author Angela Slatter) first novel-length work set in the Irish-flavored world of her acclaimed Sourdough and Other Stories and The Bitter­wood Bible. For fans of Slatter, that’s probably all that needs to be said to compel immediate acquisition. The rest of you, even ...Read More

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Gary K. Wolfe and Paula Guran Review Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes

Burning Girls and Other Stories, Veronica Schanoes (Tordotcom 978-1-250781505, $25.99, 336pp, hc) March 2021.

“History is a fairy tale”, a subtitle in Veronica Schanoes’s story “Emma Goldman Takes Tea with the Baba Yaga”, could almost serve as an epigram for the whole of her first collection, Burning Girls and Other Stories. Schanoes, who is a scholar of fairy tales, feminism, and Jewish literature and history, brings all of ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Black Static, The Dark, Nightmare, and Fantasy

Black Static 11-12/20 The Dark 11/20, 12/20 Nightmare 12/20, 1/21 Fantasy 12/20, 1/21

I can’t really point out the best in Black Static #77. All six stories are the sort that stay with you and deserve at least brief mention (although Steve Rasnic Tem’s may be my favorite.) A vacation in a tropical paradise turns horrific in novelette “The Guardian” by Philip Fracassi. As tired as I ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: LCRW, Uncanny, and Apex

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 9/20 Uncanny 11-12/20 Apex 1/21

I write this as annus horribilis 2020 ends. Al­though I have no intention of continuing the new year in this manner, I simply have too many stories and not enough inches in which to cover them. Apologies to writers whom I may be slighting, but his time out I’ll be concentrating on the more outstanding stories in each featured periodical. (Or ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Deuces Down, Edited by George R.R. Martin & Melinda Snodgrass

Deuces Down, George R.R. Martin & Melinda Snodgrass, eds. (Tor 978-1-250-22720-1, $28.99, 352pp, hc) January 2021.

Deuces Down is both the 16th and 30th book in the Wild Cards series. The anthology was first published in 2002; this new version is refreshed with added stories by Carrie Vaughn, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Caroline Spector. Although re­ferred to on the title page as a mosaic novel, it remains – despite ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews In That Endlessness, Our End by Gemma Files

In That Endlessness, Our End, Gemma Files (Grimscribe 978-0-578-75976-0, $20, 342pp, tp) January 2021.

Fifteen recent (the earliest appears to have been published in 2017) stories by Canadian writer Gemma Files combine to make a terrifically ter­rifying collection, In That Endlessness, Our End. Files doesn’t exactly expose the horror found in the mundane because, once the thin veneer of normalcy is scratched, very little is mundane about her ...Read More

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The Year in Review: 2020 by Paula Guran

I often shy away from these annual summations. Even in late December, I haven’t seen everything, so it is never truly complete. Plus, I always fear I will forget something important. Nevertheless, I’m giving it a shot this year. After all, despite 2020 being a horrific year in the real world, there was a lot of great horror and other dark fiction.

My favorite debut of the year is most ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Root Magic by Eden Royce

Root Magic, Eden Royce (Walden Pond, 978-0-062-89957-6, $16.99, 352pp, hc) January 2021.

Root Magic is an entrancing story of fam­ily love, legacy, and strength; of finding oneself; and preserving a connection to the past. Intended for ages eight through 12, the book can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults.

Vividly set on one of South Carolina’s marshy Sea Islands, the story begins on September 2, 1963, with the funeral of ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve, Edited by Ellen Datlow

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Night Shade Books 978-1-59780-973-3, $15.99, 480pp, tp) October 2020.

Ellen Datlow’s career as the doyen of “year’s best” editors began with The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Col­lection in 1988 (with co-editor Terri Windling), and the series was renamed The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror with the third annual col­lection. After 21 volumes, the series ended, but Datlow ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Uncanny, Black Static, The Dark, Nightmare, and Tor.com

Uncanny 9-10/20 Black Static 9-10/20 The Dark 9/20, 10/20 Nightmare 10/20, 11/20 Tor.com 9/2/20

Uncanny #36 offers five rewarding originals. T. Kingfisher‘s terrific science fictional retelling of Hansel and Gretel, “Metal Like Blood in the Dark“, is a grim but triumphant tale.

The engaging “Anchorage” by Samantha Mills involves a spacefaring crew beset with guilt, a librarian of sorts who also serves as a confessor ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Baffling, Weird Horror, and Fantasy

Baffling 10/20 Weird Horror Fall ’20 Fantasy 11/20

Fall 2020 brought a new online magazine, a new print periodical, and the return of a digital magazine.

Baffling launched October 1, 2020 with four “unapologetically queer and unashamedly weird” stories of under 1,200 words. (Going forward they will publish one flash story a month on Patreon, compile the offerings quarterly, then publish that for free online.) Baffling #1 offers a welcome ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews The Midnight Circus by Jane Yolen

The Midnight Circus, Jane Yolen (Tachyon Publications 978-1-616-96340-8, $16.95, 256pp, tp) November 2020.

The prolific, multi-award-winning Jane Yolen is a bona fide legend and, at least to those of us on the darker side of genre, has long been noted for what Theodora Goss calls – in her excellent foreword – the darkness “in much of her work, both fiction and poetry, because her writing is grounded in history ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Monster Movies by David J. Schow

Monster Movies, David J. Schow (Cimarron Street Books, 979-8-651-97809-0 $14.95, 280pp, tp) September 2020.

David J. Schow culled 30 years of his stories (1983-2013) for 13 to fit the titular theme of new collection Monster Movies. Or, more precisely, as the author states: “What happens to the monsters after the movie is over? That’s the backbeat, the true north for much of this book.” Except it is also ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan

Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies, John Langan (Word Horde 978-1-939-90560-4 $19.99, 388pp, tp) August 2020.

Stephen Graham Jones, in his introduction to Chil­dren of the Fang and Other Genealogies, briefly sums John Langan’s work up, as well as anyone can, as “both delivering us some compelling horror but at the same time interrogating the basic form of horror.” In his appealing story notes, Langan acknowledges the ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Velocities: Stories by Kathe Koja

Velocities: Stories, Kathe Koja (Meerkat Press 978-1-946-15423-1, $15.95, 200pp, tp) May 2020.

Since Kathe Koja’s Velocities came out in the spring, I am playing catch-up a bit with this, but it deserves a spotlight. Although Koja has been a notable weird writer for over 30 years, this is only her second collection (the first, Extremities, was published in 1997). The 13 stories here – two original to the ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: The Dark, Nightmare, Uncanny, and Shoreline of Infinity

The Dark 7/20, 8/20 Nightmare 8/20, 9/20 Uncanny 7-8/20 Shoreline of Infinity #18

Although I’m writing this in the heat of summer, by the time you read it autumn will be beckoning with fictional chills as well as cooler weather. If you haven’t caught up to these stories by then, they will still be worthy of the season.

The Dark #62 offers two originals. “Agog” by Stephen Volk ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews The Best of Michael Marshall Smith by Michael Marshall Smith

The Best of Michael Marshall Smith, Michael Marshall Smith (Subterranean Press 978-1-596-06950-3, $45.00, 568pp, hc) December 2020.

Michael Marshall Smith is that rare author whose first published story “The Man Who Drew Cats” won a respected award – the British Fantasy Award for Short Fiction – and put him immediately on the genre map. He followed it with a second win the following year with “The Dark Land” and ...Read More

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Paula Guran Reviews Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley (MCD x FSG Originals 978-0-374110-031, $15.00, 176pp, tp) August 2020.

According to Encyclopædia Britannica, Beowulf is a “heroic poem, the highest achievement of Old English literature and the earliest European vernacular epic.” True, but it is also a work of dark fantasy. Without its monsters, there wouldn’t be much to the story.

Maria Dahvana Headley has already retold the poem through ...Read More

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