The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare

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Pages:
Genre: Horror, Novella, Noir

Format: E-book

Published by Broken River Books

Towards the end of Halloween, I wanted to read something that would fit the mood. I have a bunch of unread Anderson Prunty novels and there was a new C.V. Hunt novel out. I sighed to myself and instead tapped on this novella. I was somehow burned out on Anderson Prunty after reading Creep House and I just didn’t want to add a brand new book to my ever growing TBR, despite that I love Hunt’s work. And the truest thing that J. David Osborne, who runs Broken River Books, has ever said in a blog post or some other social media post I don’t remember where I read it, was that when people obtain or download a book for free, most likely they’re not going to read it right away or they might not read it at all. But I managed to get into this one though and for its length and content, in the spirit of Halloween, it’s totally worth $2.99.

Cesare is known for his horror genre novels, well, I think that’s what he mainly writes. I looked through his repertoire on Goodreads and found a exploitation genre novel much in the spirit of those cannibal exploitation films from the Italians to the recent Eli Roth. And well this one, is kind of sort of the same thing, but on a low budget scale. It’s more like a snuff film actually.

The narrator, who’s name escapes me, is an indie film maker who makes smutty and gore filled internet films that the weirdos out there enjoy. Then he meets a girl who verges onto a sort of manic pixie dream girl. she’s the girl he’s always dreamed of, beautiful, fame hungry and she’s got the sadistic streak he does. So what happens is that together they make a film with a longtime friend named Burt and his horror dream girl gets a little bit too into character. So no more Burt and the narrator is slowly getting famous off his snuff video.

It’s about ambition and being careful for what you wish for. Ever since the main dude’s manic pixie girl committed her atrocity, they begin to feel on edge and their relationships dwindles, but most people didn’t seem to separate the real blood from the watery ketchup at first. And then you question, who’s the real actual sadistic killer in this novella?

The First One You Expect is interesting because you get to read about the underlings of horror films. The ones who can’t afford the high tech supplies but yet still have the brains to make a decent horror out of home made scratch. It’s a tribute to the underground peasants of art. But it’s also a satire in a way, the novella’s got a cheap, campy feel to it. Much like what the main dude directs. It’s got the noir elements, but there isn’t much suspense since you know just from the title and the first chapter. But this would make a great indie film for the festivals. I kind of also got a “failed artist” feel from this novella. The novella is a crime novel, a noir, and a self-deprecating literary novel about a loser artist. It’s kind of like a cut-throat drama and a satirical prod to the underground artists who are just frothing at the corners of their lips to be recognized.

Rating: 4/5

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Dark Water by Ariana D. Den Bleyker

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Pages: 82

Genre: Noir, Novella

Format: E-book

Published by Number Thirteen Press

Another novella, for the past month or so, novellas and short story collections have been part of my main reading habit. I’m currently reading a novella and a short story collection now and I think I will continue to do so. Not because giant tomes aren’t my thing anymore, I just got so used to reading on the kindle that books with tiny font and heavy weight are just not for me now.

So I got this for free when Number Thirteen Press started giving e-books out. When I find a small press, the first books I check out are the books written by non-White authors or women. Basically, I pay attention to the marginalized voices first, because those are the books that get the least recognition. So I decided to read this novella by an author who has written several poetry chapbooks. I’ve never heard of her, but have heard of her literary journals.

Although, I kind of have to say that this wasn’t the best noir I’ve read, I found it quite confusing, but beautiful in it’s prose and sadistic main characters. What threw me off the most was the dialogue being written in italics. So I couldn’t tell if the characters were thinking or whispering until the author said so. I found it odd and it added to the confusion. But then I read the synopsis for the plot and things were clear, but the italicized dialogue, I will just assume it was a stylistic reason, a formatting issue, or maybe all of the characters really were speaking in low hoarse tones like Christian Bale playing Batman.

What happens it that Henry is a painter, an artist, one day he loses it and kills his wife. He makes art out of corpses, carving in symbology into the flesh of his victims and pulling out their eyes, the silver coins are the last embellishments. When the police find the bodies, they are surprised to see that the victim has two shining silver coins for eyeballs. Then there’s Lorelei, John, and Elizabeth who are all tied with him somehow. They are all caught in some sort of web, where they are aware of what Henry is doing. there’s some sort of steam filled love triangle between the three (apparently John is good with the ladies) and they all want to kill Henry because Henry is losing it and is getting more vicious by the years.

I gotta say, this will make a terrifying movie, a new Silence of the Lambs. Except. Henry isn’t a cannibal. The ending ties up  like most insanity filled noir like this. It’s kind of obvious. I won’t reveal it.

For a novella, things go by pretty fast and time isn’t wasted, it’s at a good pace. What makes a good noir, from what I’ve read so far, is quick writing, but writing that has substance and very little filler unless you’re trying to write a novel, and you want to add in some more backstory with multiple plot strands. Every word to matter, but every word has to contain some sort of feel whether it’s gloomy, funny, or angry, it needs to mean something.

Henry doesn’t improve and I guess I can say he doesn’t get better either. He is the same old Henry throughout the novella, but Elizabeth loses her empathy and accepts that her brother is a murderer. She also has to accept that her lover is no different. And I guess I can say, that sort of leaves a strong woman tone to it, where I guess women can’t really trust dudes.

Rating: 4/5

Two Solar Luxuriance Chapbooks: Throne of Blood by Cassandra Troyan and Sacramento by Meghan Lamb

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Page: 94

Genre: Poetry, Experimental

Format: Format

Published by Solar Luxuriance

Now, that I’m finally loving poetry, I decided to pick this chapbook up. When I downloaded it months ago, Solar Luxuriance provides free downloads of their out-of-print chapbooks, I kept giving it up and picking up something else. The first “chapter” is actually a short story written in poetry. Is there a name for ‘Short story poetry’? I guess it would be narrative poetry. Anyway, that was one of the best parts of the chapbook, not only because I rarely find that style of poetry, but it is my favorite kind of poetry because it’s short stories, but not actually a short story. It tells the story of these two male necrophiliacs that murder women and girls and bury them in the basement. A lot of her poetry kind of has this feminist undertone to it, where she mourns the death and mistreatment of women and girls by the hands of men. It’s feminist because most people don’t take the mistreatment of women seriously. If you don’t believe me, well listen to how many people make jokes about rape and blaming rape on rape victims. But yeah.

Then after that, there’s some more poetry similar to do that, except girls don’t die physically, they die on the inside. I think these might’ve been slightly autobiographical. Where father’s disappoint and men kill women mentally repeatably for feeling too much.

This chapbook was actually fairly popular in the small press world so I feel like my review is basically going to repeat the same thing. Of course most of this chapbook isn’t too dark, some of it is light hearted somewhat. A care free feminist chapbook about being a woman who owns her sexuality, disappointment in relationships, self-hatred and inability to cope with it, and  existential angst. Topic wise, it’s not much different than your usual poetry book in the Alt. Lit world. But Troyan’s biting and vivid poetry stands out from the Tao Lin esque poetry writing I usually see to the point where it’s unavoidable. (Not knocking him, just saying that there’s way too many people writing like him now, with slight differences, but not very much the same.)

Rating: 4.5/5

sacramento

Pages: 28

Genre: Novella

Format: E-book (Again, a free PDF download of an our-of-print chapbook.)

(I tried my best to remove the black parts so it could blend in.)

Well this one is short and sweet and it talks about loneliness and isolation, about awkward and unfulfilling relationships, and then it switches back and forth to the Gold Rush era when people left their homes and died on the way. The prose is filling for a novella, this is one of the shortest novellas I’ve ever read, I almost consider it a novelette, and yet it was written good enough to feel emotionally involving. I would like to read more of her works. Don’t have much to say since it’s so short.

Rating: 4.5/5

Selo and Inya: Lady of the Court, Hunter, and Queen of Dust

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Pages: 37, 40? 46, 
Genre: Fantasy (Mythology), Novelette/Novella, Ongoing Series
Format: E-book
Published by Middle Child Press

I often get bored of fantasy these days. It just doesn’t pull me in the same way everything else does. Magical realism, I like though, but then somebody on Facebook was like “Magical realism is just fantasy!” And I was like “WHAAT?!” I don’t believe them. I actually wrote this review, a different version, for Feisty Zine, so this is a cross post.

Selo & Inya restored some faith in me. It takes place in a fictional world that seems to meld West African, East Asian, Polynesian, and South Asian cultures and religions. There are two societies, there’s one where there’s only females and there’s a mixed society which has males and females. The first novella, Lady of the Court, starts off the series with Selo, from the kingdom of Tiy, a woman warrior who ends up leaving her homeland after her sister gets into a blood marriage to end the war between the kingdoms. When she arrives in Oon Sati, where the marriage takes place, she meets an herbalist nomad named Inya who becomes her guide after some incidents cause her to leave Oon Sati. And the whole series consists of Selo and Inya traveling to the various kingdoms and getting into a few scuffles. You will soon find out that somebody out there is planning something the duo is unaware of and that someone wants to get rid of them before they find out.

Selo and Inya are lively characters and just like any well written character, they are distinct and grow throughout the series. Since Selo is a warrior and an orphan, she’s very closed off and sort of cold. She’s serious and made of stone, but yet she’s motherly. Inya is loose and carefree which causes a bit of trouble along the way that Selo tends to clean up. Inya is the bright beacon, she’s the Oscar of The Odd Couple while Selo is sort of like Felix. These two ladies are polar opposites, yet the friendship works. The biggest character development happened for Selo in Queen of Dust, which was nominated for best short novel by The Swirl Awards.

Since this is a series of novellas, they’re pretty short reads, and the prose is quick and engaging. The writing doesn’t leave the canvas blank, there’s vivid imagery that holds the story’s existence into place, meaning that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading about the journey of two nameless blobs. It’s also thick enough to map out a world, but there’s no large amounts of info dumping. There are tactics to build a world in genre fiction without writing a whole background story outline. Overall, Selo & Inya is a pretty solid ongoing series. It is a breathe of fresh air and hopefully it will leave a mark in the fantasy fiction world, especially in the small press and indie section.

Lady of the Court: 5/5

Hunter: 4.5/5

Queen of Dust: 5/5

Overall: Strong 5.

Cross posted from Feisty Zine

The Woman from Cheshire Avenue by Ankhesen Mié

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Pages: 86

Genre: Romance, Paranormal, Psychological Thriller, Novella

Format: E-book

Published by Middle Child Press

Borrowed from Kindle Prime Library

The funny thing about this novella is that during the time I was reading this I watched a movie called Supremacy. It was filled with tension and kept you at the edge of the seat, it was nasty, but it was that I-can’t-look-away type of movie.  That’s what this novella is like. The only bad thing about the movie was that Danny Glover, I always confuse him with Donald Glover for some odd reason, was playing this old father and was talking really low and raspy like Christian Bale’s growling lion interpretation of Batman’s soft mysterious voice. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I partly blame this on my hearing and the lack of subtitles that Mom forgot to put on. Supremacy was a Hollywood movie though, the good guys win. It’s not like The Woman from Cheshire Avenue where there are no good guys and it sort of rubs you the wrong way since Neo-Nazis are involved in this novella.

Lilith Wells doesn’t know what the hell she wants and one day out of spite, she kisses a Neo-Nazi. She comes from a family of Black excellence, She has a successful career, and is the daughter of a successful politician. So of course this could lead to disaster especially since her father and the Neo-Nazis are all playing buddies with the Hirosawa family, a Japanese mobster family.

This novella seems to be a sort of indirect sequel to the novella, Folklore, from Folklore and Other StoriesThe Hirosawa family seems to be continuing their blood-soaked legacy into this novella and based on the ending, there just might be a sequel.

I don’t know, this one was quirky. I kind of already got a feeling of what Mié writes from her novella trilogy and it’s dark and uncomfortable, but yet you just keep reaching for more to wallow in it. Although this one was a little more hopeful I guess. The Neo-Nazi, Eric, who hated everyone and took pride in it, soon changes after that magical kiss and decides to clean up his act. He was the Snow White and Lillith Wells was the prince.  And of course, as Lilith Wells and Eric get closer, you will find that this love is forbidden, because obviously she’s Black and Eric is a White nazi, that isn’t actually German, he’s Norwegian. Remember Neo-Nazis are racist and hate eveything that is darker than them.

It’s a very thought-provoking novel that seems to ask if it is possible for a person to be completely changed and forgiven. But in this case, in this novella, there wasn’t enough time for that happen. It does raise the question of whether or not a person can stop being a Neo-Nazi, a piece of trash, and become clean. Can a person stop being terrible? Can they stop what they started and practiced from birth?

This off beat novella, especially that goth girl with the pink and black cornrows, raised some questions in my head about people and the ways they think, but it also left me thoroughly entertained. There are no heroes and there are no happy endings, everyone gets their own punishment for any of their actions, whether if they were right or wrong. After reading the ending, there was a point where I wondered if this was some sort of satire written with the most nonsatirical prose or maybe I’m just overthinking. This is definitely the anti-romance novel. The foolish don’t always remain foolish, and the deviant don’t only have deviant ways and remain that way. Something like that.

Rating: 4.5/5