Friday, May 17, 2024

Carousel by Sarah McKnight

Carousel by Sarah McKnight. Recommended. Read if you like Creepy carnivals, sapphic romance, trapped teens.

Formats: Print, digital

Publisher: Kindle Scribe

Genre: Demon, Occult, Romance

Audience: Y/A

Diversity: Main characters and author are queer women, main character has anxiety disorder

Content Warnings: Ableism, Alcohol Abuse, Cannibalism, Child Death, Child Endangerment, Death, Forced Captivity, Gore, Kidnapping, Mental Illness (anxiety), Suicide (Highlight to view)

Blurb:
Ladies and gentlemen, the show is about to begin…

All Laura Fitzpatrick wanted to do was tell her lab partner, Maddie, how she really feels about her, but when a perfect opportunity falls into her lap, Laura does what she does best – chickens out.  

Then, Laura is dared to check out the abandoned carnival grounds outside of town, and she seizes the opportunity to prove to herself and others that she can be brave after all. To her surprise, Maddie isn’t about to let her go alone.

As they explore the eerie property, they’re thrust into an endless night of terror, where danger lurks around every corner. With a century-old mystery waiting to be uncovered, Laura must learn what true bravery means if she hopes to get herself – and Maddie – out of the Plum Creek Carnival alive.

Whatever you do, don't let the Carnival Man see you...

I received this product for free in return for providing an honest and unbiased review. I received no other compensation. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Oh Sarah McKnight, you had me at sapphic horror set in a creepy carnival.

Laura is an introverted highschooler riddled with anxiety and self-doubt. Instead of staying home watching horror movies (a girl after my own heart) she forces herself out of her comfort zone and attends a Halloween party hoping to run into her crush, Maddie. Even with her social battery almost completely depleted, Laura ends up staying for a game of Truth or Dare and a chance to confess her feelings. But when she’s dared to make out with Maddie in front of her classmates, Laura chickens out and instead chooses to go to the town’s old, abandoned carnival grounds for her dare. Maddie, a fan of urbex, volunteers to go with her. Will this be Laura’s chance to confess? Well, it’s a horror story, so of course it goes badly. The moment the two share a kiss on the carousel, they’re ripped into a reality outside of time where they, along with the other teens trapped there, are continuously hunted by the enigmatic Carnival Man.

Maddie is Laura’s opposite. She’s outgoing, adventurous, and is perfectly happy to visit a creepy, abandoned park, despite Laura’s misgivings. Interestingly, while initially appearing to be the braver of the two, Maddie is the first to give up when the two girls are trapped in the carnival, and Laura is forced to take charge. Laura does her best to find solutions that will allow them to escape their magical prison, while Maddie does her best to be supportive while not truly believing they’ll ever escape. The other teens trapped there are also hesitant to encourage Laura, as most of them have already lost all hope of escape. Some have even given into their grief and despair which causes them to behave desperately. But despite the odds, and everyone telling her it’s impossible, Laura refuses to give up.

I liked how Laura was terrified but still did what needed to be done, or as she says “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Brave characters conquering their fears are always more relatable than fearless ones. I found Laura’s undying hope endearing rather than irritating, as, despite her optimism, she was still practical and cautious. Her determination was inspiring and I absolutely loved her character growth as the story unfolded. My only complaint is I wish we had gotten to know the other characters a little better so their deaths would have more impact, but this is not uncommon in horror. Luckily, Laura and Maddie were extremely likable and relatable. As an anxiety-ridden, introverted, horror fan myself, it felt like Laura was written just for me. Meanwhile, I found Maddie’s adventurous spirit admirable because I’m often the one egging friends into exploring abandoned locations (and I would totally visit a creepy old carnival if I could). But once they were actually in danger, Maddie turned out to be the more practical of the two, discouraging Laura from taking unnecessary risks.

This was a particularly fun, creepy read. The pacing was perfect; the tension never let up and the story never dragged. The entire experience was like riding one of the carnival’s decrepit roller coasters, even when you weren’t screaming as you sped down a perilous drop or took a bank turn, you felt the dread of going up a lift hill, waiting for the inevitable fall. I read the entire book in one sitting, unable to put it down because I was so desperate to know how the Carnival Man’s prisoners escaped. (Would they escape??) Plus, it had the perfect horror story setting.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Bury Your Gays: An Anthology of Tragic Queer Horror edited by Sofia Ajram

Bury Your Gays: An Anthology of Tragic Queer Horror edited by Sofia Ajram. Highly Recommended. Read if you like tragic queer horror.





















Formats: Print, digital

Publisher: Ghoulish Books

Genre: Body Horror, Ghosts/Haunting, Killer/Slasher, Monster, Romance

Audience: Adult/Mature

Diversity: Queer and trans authors and characters

Content Warnings: Alcohol Abuse, Body Shaming, Bullying, Death, Drug Use/Abuse, Eating Disorder, Homophobia, Medical Torture/Abuse, Medical Procedures, Necrophilia, Police Harassment, Rape/Sexual Assault, Slurs, Suicide, Torture, Transphobia, Violence (Highlight to view)

Blurb:
A manifestation of ecstasy, heartache, horror and suffering rendered in feverish lyrical prose. Inside are sixteen new stories by some of the genre's most visionary queer writers. Young lovers find themselves deliriously lost in an expanding garden labyrinth. The porter of a sentient hotel is haunted within a liminal time loop. A soldier and his abusive commanding officer escape a war in the trenches but discover themselves in an even greater nightmare. Parasites chase each other across time-space in hungry desperation to never be apart. A graduate student with violent tendencies falls into step with a seemingly walking corpse. Featuring stories from Cassandra Khaw, Joe Koch, Gretchen Felker-Martin, Robbie Banfitch, August Clarke, Son M., Jonathan Louis Duckworth, M.V. Pine, Ed Kurtz, LC Von Hessen, Matteo L. Cerilli, November Rush, Meredith Rose, Charlene Adhiambo, Violet, and Thomas Kearnes.

I received this product for free in return for providing an honest and unbiased review. I received no other compensation. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

An exquisite anthology of queer horror that boasts such talented authors as Cassandra Khaw, August Clarke, and Gretchen Felker-Martin, this collection contains something for everyone. In its pages, you’ll find alien fungi, body horror, dark fairytales, undead lovers, and lonely ghosts. Named for the common trope where gay characters often meet with untimely ends in mainstream media, this anthology subverts the trope by putting it in the hands of queer writers.

In Your Honor, I’d Like to Put You in the Shoes of One of Dr. Morehouse’s Thirty Proven Clients by M. V. Pine, a trans woman (although she’s never referred to as such) struggles to find gender-affirming care. It’s the 1970s and she’s been dishonorably discharged from the army for “mental health” reasons. Her family doesn’t support her. She refers to her genitals as “a tumor.” A tumor that’s benign (hence, no doctor will remove it for her) but still mortifying. Because she’d do anything to be rid of it, she becomes an easy mark for Dr. Morehouse, who performs dangerous back-alley vaginoplasties on trans women. His surgical room is dirty and he runs out of anesthesia halfway through the procedure. He doesn’t provide antibiotics or pain medication. But the woman would rather die than go another day living with her “tumor.”

This is a story is about what happens when people don’t have access to safe, gender-affirming care. In 2017 a trans woman known only as “Jane Doe” underwent a back-alley orchiectomy which caused her to lose large amounts of blood. Police arrested James Lowell Pennington, who had performed the procedure without a medical license. Doe defended Pennington stating "Arranging a back-alley surgery was out of pure desperation due to a system that failed me.” Why would someone risk their life for what seems like an elective procedure? A study published in JAMA that followed trans and non-binary youths ages 13 to 20 showed 60% reduction of depression and 73% reduction of suicidality in participants who had initiated puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones compared to those who had not. Another study published in JAMA on gender-affirming surgeries among 27,715 trans and gender diverse adults showed a 42% reduction in psychological distress and a 44% reduction in suicidal ideation among those who were able to receive gender-affirming surgery compared to those who wanted to but could not. There are many such studies that show similar results. Access to safe, gender-affirming care is quite literally lifesaving and immensely improves quality of life for trans and gender diverse people.

Another story that touches on the desperation many trans people feel just to have access to gender-affirming care is Worth the Dying Shame by Matteo L. Cerilli. In it, trans men are being infected by tainted, counterfiet testosterone with a disease that causes their bodies to decay as if dead (a clear parallel to AIDS). They hide their Body Rot under heavy clothing, dark glasses, and face masks. This causes an already unaccepting public to further turn on trans men. With jobs drying up, friends abandoning them, and doctors no longer willing to prescribe testosterone, the men who are able to go back in the closet. Others are forced to buy their T on the black market since doctors are no longer willing to prescribe the real stuff, which carries an even greater risk of infection. The story follows two trans men who have become infected, Dimeshine and Rictus. Rictus chose to detransition because he can still pass for a girl, but Dimeshine continues to inject T despite the risk of decaying faster. Both turn to the dark web to try and slow their Body Rot, trusting the community more than they do hospitals (understandable considering how often healthcare fails trans people). The two argue over whether Dimeshine’s little brother, Ratty, who is still early in his transition, should use testosterone or not. Dimeshine is firmly against it, worried Ratty might become infected like he was, but Rictus argues that he can’t blame Ratty for wanting to die for something they both would have killed for. These stories are a solemn reminder of what happens when the healthcare system fails LGBTQIA+ patients. As someone who works in healthcare, I held both stories especially heartbreaking.

Surprisingly for a horror anthology, many of the stories were love stories. Editor Sofia Ajram states the collection “was created out of a desire to read stories about tragic queer love. Love that is broken, love that is toxic, and obsessive, and ill-fated. Love that is thwarted, as viewed through the lens of authors who are queer-identifying themselves.” Abusive relationships are too often played off as romantic (think Twilight and Hush Hush), so it’s nice to see those sorts of relationships being shown for what they are, even when the characters themselves can’t recognize it. While horrific in real life, villain protagonists and toxic relationships can be fascinating studies in fiction. I also enjoyed having imperfect, even villainous queer characters whose character faults aren’t tied to their sexuality.

In American Gothic by LC von Hessen, villain protagonist John Smith is a serial killer (although he’d never refer to himself as such since “those guys are losers”) who has an unfortunate habit of murdering his dates. It’s not premeditated, it just seems to happen. But one day, one of his victims, who he dubs “L,” comes back to life. Or rather, he reanimates, as he’s still technically dead. L has no memory of his time alive, so John weaves an ever changing, fictional history of their romance. As L slowly rots away, John falls deeper in love with him. As shown with his past crushes, John is more in love with the fantasy he conjures then the men themselves. L allows him to project his ideal partner on to a blank slate he can fall in love with, like some sort of twisted Pygmalion, whereas living men would frequently reject him for being unemotional or creepy. John is a selfish lover, viewing his partners only by what they can do for him rather than their needs. He stalks and harasses one of his exes to the point they delete all their social media, but John still views himself as the victim and wonders why he didn’t kill his ex. John wants L to live, not for L’s sake, but for his own. He even tells him, “I won’t let you die. You’re not allowed to die unless I want you to die.” His selfishness and obsessiveness reminded me of male stalkers who feel they’re owed something by the object of their affection and can’t understand the word “no.”

This Body is Not Your Home by Son M., Love Like Ours by C M Violet, and Fortune Favors Grief by Cassandra Khaw are also stories of men who kill their lovers. Domestic violence against men is rarely examined. Even though 1 in 10 men will experience intimate partner violence or stalking in their lifetime, DV is usually thought of as a women’s issue only. Research on domestic violence among LGBTQIA+ people is even more sparse, even though gay men experience higher rates of physical violence then straight men. So, it’s refreshing to see stories that focus on intimate partner violence in gay relationships. Some of the stories focus more on mental and emotional abuse rather than physical. Both Sardines by Gretchen Felker-Martin and Zero Tolerance by M. F. Rose deal with queer teenage girls who are bullied. The former is a body horror story about a fat girl struggling with her sexuality and the latter is about cyber bullying. In this case, it’s their non-romantic relationships that are toxic.

Cleodora by August Clarke is a more lighthearted tale that follows the romance between a beautiful sea monster and a sea captain. The Captain discovers the monster and claims her as her bride, naming her Cleodora after a prophetic river nymph (The Captain seems to conflate the nymph Cleodroa with Andromeda, a princess who was offered as a sacrifice to a sea monster and rescued by the Greek hero Perseus). She sees Cleodora as helpless, which may explain why the Captain has no qualms about marrying a monster, happily feeding her new bride live eels and listening to her stories of drowning men. Cleodora feels equally unthreatened, stating “It’s fortunate my true love is a woman, because women do not hurt each other.” Ironic, considering how the story ends. The story feels like the original, darker version of a German fairytale, with hints of selkie wife folklore and siren myths.

Not all the romances involve toxic relationships or unrequited love. Bad Axe by Ed Kurtz is a tragic love story wherein John loses his lover, Eric, to the lake at Bad Axe in Minnesota. They’re never able to recover the body, so John goes back to Bad Axe to drown himself so he can be with Eric again. A touching yet morbid story it shares similarities with the myth of Hero and Leander. Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, throws herself out of her tower after her lover, Leander, drowns trying to swim to her. The tragedy in Bad Axe is that John and Eric have a beautiful relationship that was tragically taken from them and now John must try and navigate the world through his immense grief. Black Hole, a sci-fi story by November Rush, also centers around a beautiful relationship that’s torn apart, but this time it’s between two parasitic, sentient fungi. Despite not being human, their love is no less pure and real. Lost and Found by Charlene Adhiambo also deals with lovers being united in death, but in this case they didn’t know each other before they died. 

It’s an intense read-- many of the stories handle dark themes like transphobic healthcare systems, bullying, drug abuse, suicide and AIDS analogies--but a beautiful one, full of romance and tragedy. Remarkably, each one of the stories in Bury Your Gays is as strong as the last, and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Some broke my heart, others chilled me to the bone, and yet others were touching in a bittersweet way. But all left a lasting impression.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Grimmer by Naben Ruthnum

The Grimmer by Naben Ruthnum. Recommended. Read if you like cats, book stores, punk rock.













Formats: Print, audio, digital

Publisher: ECW Press

Genre: Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Audience: Y/A

Diversity: Indian Canadian author and characters

Takes Place in: BC, Canada

Content Warnings: Alcohol Abuse, Death, Drug Use/Abuse, Racism (Highlight to view)


Blurb:
The small-town mysteries of John Bellairs are made modern with a dash of Stranger Things in this spine-tingling supernatural horror-thriller After his father returns from treatment for addiction, highschooler Vish ― lover of metal music and literature ― is uncertain what the future holds. It doesn’t help that everyone seems to know about the family’s troubles, and they stand out doubly as one of the only brown families in town. When Vish is mistaken for a relative of the weird local bookseller and attacked by an unsettling pale man who seems to be decaying, he is pulled into the world of the occult, where witches live in television sets, undead creatures can burn with a touch, and magic is mathematical. Vish must work with the bookstore owner and his mysterious teenage employee, Gisela, to stop an interdimensional invasion that would destroy their peaceful town. Bringing together scares, suspense, and body horror, The Grimmer is award-winning author Naben Ruthnum’s first foray into the young adult genre. This gripping ride through the supernatural is loaded with vivid characters, frightening imagery, and astonishing twists, while tackling complex issues such as grief, racism, and addiction.

I received this product for free in return for providing an honest and unbiased review. I received no other compensation. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

It’s 1996, and Vish Maurya is finally returning from his Vancouver Island boarding school to his home of Kelowna, BC (where Ruthnum grew up). Normally, he’d spend the summer playing music with his best friends, Danny and Matt Pearson, but they’re no longer on speaking terms after the brothers told their music teacher about Vish’s father’s opioid addiction. Somehow, the entire school found out and Vish was sent away to boarding school while his father went to detox and worked on his recovery. Now he spends his days in his room brooding and pretending everything at is normal at home.

Kelwona is very white, and it’s hard for Vish being one of the only Indian kids. Other children do imitations of his parents’ Indian accents (never mind that neither of them has a strong accent). They joke that his beautiful mother is a mail-order bride or make snide remarks about arranged marriages because “there was no way someone that beautiful would willingly end up with someone who looked like his dad.” Parents tell him how much they love butter chicken and samosas. So, it’s a relief when Vish meets another Indian person, a cool but sick-looking young man named Agastya who runs a bookstore called Greycat books. A shop I would totally visit for the name alone if it existed in the real world. There’s even a shop cat named Moby. Little does he know that Agastya, a punk teen named Gisela, and a strange man named Mr. Farris are about to change his life forever.

And this is where the book veers into a mix of dark fantasy and science-fiction à la a Wrinkle in Time. Mr. Farris is a nachzehrer, an undead creature from German folklore that is said to be able to drain its victim’s lifeforce. Gisela is also a 700-year-old German witch, but somehow still 16 so it’s totally not creepy for Vish to harbor a crush on her because they’re technically the same age due to magic and time travel. She gave me the impression of a punk version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, that is, a woman who exists only to help and fulfil the male protagonists. She rescues her love interest from his own boring life and guides him to become a better version of himself. Gisela at least has her own motivations and desires, using Vish to stop the antagonist, but her “not like other girls” vibes still grated on me. I also didn’t like how Agastya and Gisela keep promising to tell Vish everything, then would end up dropping new, horrible surprises on him. You can hardly blame him for getting frustrated with them. They would act like they cared, but then seemed to be only interested in using poor Vish.

I found the Grimmer’s magic system confusing, somehow both extremely detailed and vague. Despite multiple explanations of both magic and magical beings I still had no idea how everything worked (something to do with very complex math and physics?). All this seemed to do was make the book feel unnecessarily drawn out. Kudos to Ruthnum for putting so much thought into his world, but I would’ve liked to have seen less world building and more character development, especially for Gisela. I could have also used more horror, given that the book is advertised as horror, though what little there was felt genuinely creepy.

Although The Grimmer takes place in the 90s, it avoids relying too much on nostalgia or making a plethora of pop culture references that might alienate its young adult audience. I liked how the book dealt so deftly with heavy topics like racism and addiction and showed the adults as imperfect. I like that Vish’s father, a well-educated psychiatrist, struggles with drug addiction while we see Agastya, a successful book store owner, abuse alcohol to help cope with the death of his wife.

Anyone can suffer from a substance use disorder, including a successful doctor and family man like Vish’s father, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at most media. At my day job, I work with patients struggling with substance use disorder (SUD), and half the battle is confronting the stigma surrounding addiction. Stereotypes about those with SUD include being “bad” people who can’t hold down jobs, live in squalor, have no meaningful relationships, are uneducated (often drop outs) and choose to be this way. Often, I will hear patients tearfully tell me that they’re not bad people, not like those other “addicts.” They’re afraid we’ll judge them, even though they suffer from a disease that can affect anyone, because the stereotypes surrounding addiction are so pervasive. Unfortunately, their fears aren’t unfounded because even in healthcare addiction carries a lot of stigma and providers will treat these patients as “lesser.” Some patients can’t even admit they have a problem because they don’t fit the mold of what they think someone with SUD looks like. They have a successful job, a family, they own their own house, they go to church, etc. so they can’t possibly be someone with an addiction. Their inability to accept reality (of course) makes recovery even harder. The fanciful aspects of The Grimmer were hit and miss for me, and I felt like Giselle could have been a stronger character, but the book was solid and the more serious issues (grief, addiction, racism) were all handled well and were, for me at least, the strongest parts of the story. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw. Highly Recommended. Read if you like Lovecraftian Horror, Noir Detective Fiction.


Formats: Print, digital

Publisher: Tor

Genre: Body Horror, Monster, Occult, Psychological Horror, Sci-Fi Horror
Audience: Y/A

Diversity: Queer character (Gay woman), POC characters (Black, Creole woman, unknown POC character), Bisexual author, Malaysian author

Takes Place in: London

Content Warnings: Alcohol Abuse, Body-Shaming, Bullying, Child Abuse, Child Endangerment, Death, Gore, Pedophilia, Physical Abuse, Racism, Rape/Sexual Assault, Sexism, Sexual Abuse, Slurs, Slut-Shaming, Verbal/Emotional Abuse, Violence (Highlight to view)

Blurb:
John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable.

He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.


As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realizes that he carries something far darker. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.


During one of my late-night explorations of the internet (when I should have been sleeping but was instead googling all the random thoughts that pop into my head at 2 AM) I stumbled upon the work of Malaysian author Cassandra Khaw, a nerdy, queer woman who writes video games and short horror stories. Instantly intrigued, I purchased one of her novellas, Hammers on Bone, and I have to say, I fell absolutely, head-over-heels in love with Khaw's writing. Her beautifully crafted stories are full of wonderful words like "penumbra" and "ululation" (one of my favorite Latin derived words), deliciously grotesque descriptions, and unique characters. English is Khaw's third language, yet she uses it with a mastery that puts even native English speakers to shame. Her writing has a lot of range, too. These Deathless Bones is a feminist fairy tale about a witch getting sweet revenge on her wicked stepson. Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef is a comedic splatterpunk series, as hilarious as it is gory, about the misadventures of the titular chef who prepares decadent meals of human flesh for gods and ghouls and gets wrapped up in international deity politics. Khaw has even dabbled in chick-lit (while also managing to poke fun at the more problematic elements of the genre) with her book, Bearly a Lady, about a bisexual, plus size wear-bear that works at a faerie-run fashion magazine. Then there's her Persona Non Grata series. Much like Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom, Khaw's novellas take place in a Lovecraft inspired universe, but she flips the famously racist HP the bird by putting people of color at the forefront and using his creations to address social issues like racism, poverty, and abuse. Both stories feature the private investigator, John Persons, one of the most interesting characters I've come across in horror fiction. It's the first of Person's two novellas, Hammers on Bone, that I'll be reviewing here.

Persons speaks and acts like the "hardboiled detective" characters from 1930s pulp magazines, complete with dated American vernacular and machismo, despite living in modern day London. This makes John seem incredibly out of place and occasionally downright ridiculous, like when he describes a little boy running into his arms for a hug as "crashing into me like a Russian gangster's scarred-over fist." When he's not working as a PI, John spends his time saving the world from destruction by Star Spawn and Elder-Things. He's adept at using magic, smokes cigarettes to dull his inhumanly strong sense of smell, enjoys the cold, and can pick up memories from objects and people through physical contact. He also happens to be a Dead One (though not one of the Great Old Ones, Persons is quick to explain), an otherworldly creature whose true, terrifying form comfortably possesses resides in a human body which he shares with the ghost of its previous inhabitant. I bet that's why he has the most unimaginative, made-up sounding name ever; it was probably the first thing that popped into his head when he started inhabiting his meat suit.

Persons and his human body have an interesting relationship, more commensal than parasitic. While other Star-Spawn and Elder Things simply take what they want, invading human flesh like a disease and eventually destroying their hosts, Persons tries to minimize damage to his meat suit (he may be immortal and resilient, but his human form still suffers from wear and tear, and he feels pain when it's damaged), and gives his phantasmal passenger a say in certain decisions. Even though he's in the driver's seat, John's body will still react to its original owner's thoughts and feelings, independent of him. In one scene, the meat suit becomes aroused by the proximity of a beautiful woman. Persons is aware of "his" body's quickening pulse and rising temperature (among "other" rising things, heh), and states that the sensation is "not unpleasant", but he describes the physical reaction with the detached interest of scientist observing a cell under a microscope. He is, after all, still an alien being.

Not much is known about the man whose skin he now wears, except that he's an older person of color who lived during the interwar period, and gave John his body willingly after being asked. The whole Philip Marlowe / Sam Spade persona Persons adopts to appear more human is as an homage to his meat suit's original owner. I guess it's kind of sweet that he does that, in a very weird way, but unfortunately his stubborn refusal to update his dated vocabulary and attitudes, or venture into any genre that isn't detective noir makes John come off as pretty sexist. He refers to women as "skirts," "broads," "dames," and "birds", and divides them into victims and femme fatales. This attitude backfires on him spectacularly since, of course, the real world isn't like his detective novels, and John keeps misjudging the women he interacts with.

What sets the monstrous PI apart from his fellow cosmic entities, besides seeking consent from his body's original owner, is his fondness for humanity, his dedication to following the law and maintaining order, and his desire for earth to remain more or less the way it is, i.e. not a barren hell-scape inhabited by Eldritch abominations.  Most of the monsters he fights are chaotic evil, infecting and destroying whenever they go, but John Persons is closer to lawful neutral, occasionally leaning towards good. He's not exactly heroic since, in his words, "Good karma don't pay the bills," but Persons does have a strong set of morals. As previously mentioned he's big on consent and describes the act of possessing a willing host's body as "better than anything else I'd ever experienced" and feels incredibly guilty when he accidentally reads a woman's mind after touching her arm. When she becomes understandably angry at the violation, screaming "You don't take what you're not given!" John doesn't try to minimize, excuse, or defend his behavior (even though the intrusion was an accident), he simply apologizes, mortified by what he's done. He can even show compassion at times, but how much of his altruistic behavior is due to the remaining sentience of his body's former inhabitant acting as his ghostly conscience is unclear.

It's his spectral companion who convinces John to take the case of a young boy named Abel, who wants Persons to kill his abusive stepfather. While initially hesitant about committing murder, John is convinced once the boy reveals that his stepfather is a monster, both literally and figuratively, and both Abel and his little brother's lives are in danger. He might not be a hero, but Persons does seem to genuinely want to help the two boys, even if he claims it's just because they're clients. It may be simply because he wants the ghost with whom he cohabitates to stop nagging him, as John is usually pretty indifferent to human suffering on his own, or perhaps it's because an Old One is involved, and he'd really prefer it not destroy the world. Regardless of the reason, he agrees to help.

In his eagerness to play white knight (or his meat suit's eagerness) Persons often fails to realize that the "helpless victims" he seeks to rescue are often perfectly able to take care of themselves, like the waitress whose mind he reads. He's also quick to victim blame the boys' mother for not leaving, clearly unable to understand the psychological element of abuse or how dangerous it is for a person to try and leave an abusive partner, just making her feel worse than she already does. John struggles when it comes to comforting victims or dealing with their emotions. He claims his lack of skill when it comes to words and feelings is due to being a "man" (or at least inhabiting the body of one), though it's just as likely it's because he's an eldritch abomination, and he's just been using sexism to avoid learning the nuances of human emotion. While Persons is better at managing his desire to destroy and devour than the other monsters and is able to maintain a detached control over his meat suit's emotions and baser instincts, he's not immune to the effects of his human body's testosterone or his own toxic misogyny. When the PI is feeling especially aggressive his true form starts to writhe beneath his human skin, straining to break free from his epidermis and rip apart the object of his ire. Even his thoughts start to degrade into a sort of violent, inhuman, babble when he gets too riled up. John actually has to fight to keep control of his monstrous body when he first encounters the abusive stepfather, he's so desperate to disembowel and devour him. His true nature is a stark contrast to the cool and logical detective persona Persons has adopted. I won't lie, I did enjoy seeing him act all protective of Abel and his little brother. There's something amusing about what is essentially an immortal abomination that can effortlessly rip a grown man in two, doing something as mundane and sweet as escorting his young client home while carrying the child's kid brother on his hip. It's also heartbreaking when you realize the two boys are safer with a literal monster than their step dad, McKinsey (even before he was possessed).

The step-father is a real piece or work, and throughout the story I desperately wanted John to give in to his monstrous instincts and tear the bastard apart, limb by limb. But being a man/monster of the law, Persons won't do much more than saber-rattle until he has solid proof of McKinsey's wrong doing, much to Abel's frustration. The kid would much rather the PI solve things with his fists (teeth, tentacles, claws, and other miscellaneous alien appendages) than waste time talking to witnesses, and I'd certainly be annoyed too if the monster I hired to kill someone wasted time playing detective instead of just eating his target. But Persons did warn Abel that he's not a killer for hire and wants to do things "by the book". Unfortunately, like most real monsters, McKinsey excels at hiding his wrong doing and camouflaging his true nature which makes it difficult for John to find a solid lead. People like McKinsey and describe him as a "loving family-man".  Those who haven't been completely conned by his act either don't care he's a monster (like his boss) or are too terrified to do anything (like his fiancée). None of the adults in the boys' lives are fulfilling their duty of protecting two vulnerable children. This is where the real horror lies in Khaw's story-- not the eldritch abominations like Shub-Niggurath, or the threats of world destruction, but the all too painful reminder that we so often fail abuse victims. Khaw is tasteful when describing what the two boys go through, and it isn't played for titillation or described in explicit detail. She only reveals enough to lets us know the two boys in the story are going through something no child should ever have to suffer. I also liked her choice to make the victims male. Far too often male survivors are overlooked, erased, or mocked because society tells us males can't be victims, even though the CDC states that "More than 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime" and a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. As depressing as these statistics are, the situation isn't completely hopeless, because monsters aren't invulnerable, even the kind that have been infected by Elder Things. As Person muses towards the end of the book "I don't remember who said it, but there's an author out there who once wrote that we don't need to kill our children's monsters. Instead, what we need to do is show them that they can be killed." For those of us who can't go out an hire a eldritch abomination PI, at least we have RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) and their recommended resources for cases of abuse and sexual assault.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Out on a Limb by Luis Paredes

Out of a Limb by Luis Paredes. Recommended. Read if you like magical detectives, rabbits.





















Formats: Print, digital

Publisher: Platypus Book Press

Genre: Dark Fantasy, Mystery

Audience: Adult/Mature

Diversity: Mexican-American main character and author

Takes Place in: Ney York City, New York USA

Content Warnings: Child Endangerment, Death (Highlight to view)

Blurb:
"How many perverts d'ya think sucked on those toes before the police rolled in?"

With that question, Out On a Limb kicks off an irreverent, foul-mouthed, and horrific urban fantasy noir series following the exploits of private occult investigators Rebecca Suarez and Peyton Marx. In this fast-paced novella that readers can devour in an afternoon, Rebecca and Peyton are stumped by their strangest case yet--a tree growing human legs.

The dangling gams become the least of their concerns when nearby trees start consuming more than just carbon dioxide. Now the investigators must use their powers and the NYPD's magical tech to find the mage responsible for this heinous crime and stop a bloody disaster from creeping across the Empire State.

I received this product for free in return for providing an honest and unbiased review. I received no other compensation. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

As those of you who follow my Twitter (I refuse to call it by that other name) know, I have a rabbit named Aramis who enjoys violence and horror movies. She thinks more horror should have rabbits in it, especially rabbits that murder people like in Night of the Lepus. So, Aramis was very excited that Out on a Limb has a Holland lop as a main character. But this rabbit doesn’t murder anyone. She’s a heroic rabbit, albeit a foul mouthed and very sassy one (much like Aramis would be if she could speak) named Peyton Marx.

A photo of a brown rabbit loafing with her paws out in front, facing the camera. She is lying on a purple carpet with white and black geometric designs. Behind her is a partially chewed on cardboard box.
Aramis is seen here plotting murder

Ten years ago a statue of Hecate walked out of a museum in Greece, and magic was brought into the world. Thousands of people (and some animals, like Peyton) found themselves gifted with different types of magical abilities. There are different types of magic, and people can specialize in more than one kind. Unfortunately, magical powers were distributed randomly which means criminals also ended up with magical abilities. And that’s where Peyton and her human partner, Rebecca Suarez, come in.

Rebecca and Peyton are struggling, private occult investigators who specialize in unexplained paranormal phenomena (UPP) and hunt down magical criminals using their own array of charms and spells. The story starts with Rebecca and Peyton arriving in Queens, having been called in by the police to assist on a particularly strange crime, an oak tree full of human legs. Clearly the work of an incantation (possibly one that backfired), but who cast it is unclear.

Out on a Limb is a fun, quick read filled with lore and humor. I also liked all the rabbit-y things Peyton does like binkies when she’s happy or getting offended when a child points out that rabbits eat their own poop. The world building is exquisite, and there’s a surprising amount of it for such a short novella, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed with information. The relationship between Rebecca and Peyton is cute, and much of the humor comes from how they play off each other. While this novella leans more towards dark fantasy then straight horror it’s still creepy enough that most horror fans should enjoy it. 




Tuesday, October 31, 2023

A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens by Raul Palma




Formats: Print, audio, digital

Publisher: Dutton

Genre:  Demon, Ghosts/Haunting, Myth and Folklore

Audience: Adult/Mature

Diversity: Cuban characters and author, Bolivian character

Takes Place in: Miami, Florida

Content Warnings: Alcohol Abuse, Animal Death, Child Abuse, Child Death, Child Endangerment, Death, Illness, Medical Procedures, Oppression, Mental Illness, Racism, Suicide, Violence, Xenophobia (Highlight to view)


Blurb:
eA genre-bending debut with a fiercely political heart, A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens explores the weight of the devil’s bargain, following the lengths one man will go to for the promise of freedom.

Hugo Contreras’s world in Miami has shrunk. Since his wife died, Hugo’s debt from her medical bills has become insurmountable. He shuffles between his efficiency apartment, La Carreta (his favorite place for a cafecito), and a botanica in a strip mall where he works as the resident babaláwo.

One day, Hugo’s nemesis calls. Alexi Ramirez is a debt collector who has been hounding Hugo for years, and Hugo assumes this call is just more of the same. Except this time Alexi is calling because he needs spiritual help. His house is haunted. Alexi proposes a deal: If Hugo can successfully cleanse his home before Noche Buena, Alexi will forgive Hugo’s debt. Hugo reluctantly accepts, but there’s one issue: Despite being a babaláwo, he doesn’t believe in spirits.

Hugo plans to do what he’s done with dozens of clients before: use sleight of hand and amateur psychology to convince Alexi the spirits have departed. But when the job turns out to be more than Hugo bargained for, Hugo’s old tricks don’t work. Memories of his past—his childhood in the Bolivian silver mines and a fraught crossing into the United States as a boy—collide with Alexi’s demons in an explosive climax.

Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens explores questions of visibility, migration, and what we owe—to ourselves, our families, and our histories.


I received this product for free in return for providing an honest and unbiased review. I received no other compensation. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

It’s Christmas time in Miami and Hugo is anything but merry. His wife, Meli, recently passed away and Hugo wasn’t even able to pay for her funeral. Like most Americans he’s been drowning in debt most of his adult life, and Meli’s medical bills have only added to that. His indebtedness feels like a physical weight, crushing the life out of him, following him wherever he goes. Debt collectors hound him every day and garnish his wages. Hugo may not be a perfect person but he doesn’t deserve the hand he’s been dealt. All of Hugo’s life has been hard. He never knew his father, a white Spainard, and his mother abandoned them when he was young. During his childhood in Bolivia, Hugo and his brother worked in the mines after school. His brother would pray and offer sacrifices to El Tío, the god of the mountain, but the mountain still took his life. Hugo was always a non-believer, but his brother’s death shook his faith even further. Ironically, Hugo now works at a Botanica and is a practicing Babalawo. Although he has great respect for Lourdes, his boss, and even has a knack for knowing what people need, he still thinks it’s all hokum. He is especially talented at ridding people’s homes of ghosts, using both psychology and showmanship to make them believe their specters have vanished. Hugo may not believe in what he does, but the result is the same: his customers are happy and the “hauntings” end.

The attorney in charge of Hugo’s debt, Alexi, calls out of the blue and asks for his help. At first, Hugo is hesitant to help the devil who’s made his life miserable, but when Alexi promises to clear his debt, he acquiesces. We learn that Alexi, the son of Cuban immigrant parents (part of the Cuban exodus when affluent Cubans were fleeing Castro), is obsessed with money. Instead of following his passion of becoming a painter he chose a field that would make him wealthy because money is more important to him. He loves to show off his wealth, but as Hugo notes, he lacks taste and his choices in home décor are gaudy. Alexi is also a racist, as is evident by the “All Lives Matter” sign in his yard and the way he speaks about his Haitian laborers. Hugo is conflicted about helping the awful man, but the promise of being debt-free is too good to pass up. Of course, Hugo is hardly perfect himself, and we learn of the many mistakes he’s made that still haunt him. With each chapter, the mystery of Hugo’s life is revealed, and the reader gains an increased understanding of the deeply flawed protagonist. Hugo is a well-developed, complicated character. He isn’t perfect and  makes lots of mistakes, but he loves his wife and does his best, making him relatable. I couldn’t help but be drawn to Hugo. I just felt sorry for the poor guy. Even as I was horrified by some of the things he did, I still wanted him to win.

A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens is a unique take on ghosts and haunting. While Alexi seems to be plagued by a literal ghost, Hugo is haunted by the ghosts of his past and his debt which keep him from happiness and living his life. As the story unfolds, we learn that Hugo is also indebted in ways that aren’t financial that have haunted him since childhood. Underneath the ghost story is a horror tale about Capitalism and its exploitative nature. While the ways in which it hurts Hugo are obvious, Alexi’s unchecked greed has caused him to give up on his dreams because he was raised to belief happiness can only be earned through the accumulation of wealth.

Palma’s descriptions of Miami make the city feel like its own character, a place filled with both beauty and pain and even a little bit of magic. While the story is filled with grief and suffering, it does end on a hopeful note. It reminds me of the Latin phrase “dum spiro spero,” or “while I breathe, I hope.” It may be too late for his wife and brother, but as long as Hugo is still alive there’s always the chance for things to get better for him, even when things are at their worse. While it’s not your typical horror story, the descriptions of hopelessness and grief still left me with a sense of dread. Overall, A Haunting in Hialeah is a strong debut from a talented new horror author.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Never Whistle at Night edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.


Never Whistle at Night edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. Highly Recommended. Read if you like Indigenous horror.


Formats: Print, audio, digital

Publisher: Vintage

Genre: Ghosts/Haunting, Historic Horror, Killer/Slasher, Monster, Myth and Folklore, Occult, Psychological Horror

Audience: Adult/Mature

Diversity: Indigenous American (Alaskan Native, Pueblo, Comanche, White Earth Nation, Cree, Georgian Bay Metis, Mohawk, Cheyenne-Arapaho, Hidatsa Mi'kmaw, Cherokee, Tłı̨chǫ Dene, Hidasta, Mandan, Sosore, Sioux Penobscot, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Sicangu Lakota, Edisto Natchez-Kusso, Lipan Apache, Anishinaabe)

Content Warnings: Alcohol Abuse, Animal Death, Child Abuse, Child Endangerment, Death, Drug Use/Abuse, Forced Captivity, Gaslighting, Gore, Illness, Oppression, Mental Illness, Pedophilia, Racism, Rape/Sexual Assault, Sexual Abuse, Slurs, Torture, Verbal/Emotional Abuse, Violence (Highlight to view)

Blurb:
Many Indigenous people believe that one should never whistle at night. This belief takes many forms: for instance, Native Hawaiians believe it summons the Hukai’po, the spirits of ancient warriors, and Native Mexicans say it calls Lechuza, a witch that can transform into an owl. But what all these legends hold in common is the certainty that whistling at night can cause evil spirits to appear—and even follow you home.

These wholly original and shiver-inducing tales introduce readers to ghosts, curses, hauntings, monstrous creatures, complex family legacies, desperate deeds, and chilling acts of revenge. Introduced and contextualized by bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones, these stories are a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ survival and imagination, and a glorious reveling in all the things an ill-advised whistle might summon.


I received this product for free in return for providing an honest and unbiased review. I received no other compensation. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

There are many recognizable names in this collection: Rebecca Roanhorse, Richard Van Camp, Cherie Dimaline, Mona Susan Power, Darcie Little Badger, and Waubgeshig Rice. There’s even a foreword by Stephen Graham Jones. But I was especially excited to be introduced to some new (to me) Indigenous authors.

The stories in the anthology vary from fun campfire stories about werewolves (Night Moves by Andrea L. Rogers) and ghosts (Night in the Chrysalis by Tiffany Morris) to more serious and disturbing tales about residential school sexual abuse (Sundays by David Heska Wanbli Weiden), mental health (The Prepper by Morgan Talty), stolen land (Limbs by Waubgeshig Rice), and missing and murdered Indigenous women (The Ones who Killed Us by Brandon Hobson). There were bits of Native languages sprinkled throughout the various stories, for example I learned Uguku is “owl” in Cherokee, Kwe’ is “hello” in Mi’kmaq, and Mahsi’ cho is “thank you” in Gwich'in. This felt especially nice to see since so many Native languages are endangered. I can’t possible review all the amazing stories within the collection (and they are all amazing), so I’ll focus on a few of my favorites.

Kushtuka by Mathilda Zeller is about an Alaskan Native woman named Tapeesa. Recently an obnoxious White man named Hank Ferryman and his son Buck have moved to the area to build a monstrous lodge full of stolen Native artifacts. Tapessa is sent to the lodge cook for one of Hank’s parties and on the way the grotesque man asks her to tell him a “Native story.” Tapeesa warns that telling stories after dark could catch the attention of a spirit, but Hank laughs this off as silly superstition. She tells him the story of the Kushtuka, a shape-shifter that can take human form and tries to lure people away. As predicted, the story summons a Kushtuka which attacks Hank’s lodge. We also see this idea of attracting the attention of evil spirits in Before I Go by Norris Black, where a woman’s grieving causes the Night Mother to appear and offer to bring back her dead husband (it doesn’t end well).  

One of the things I related to in Kushtuka was Tapessa being called “basically White” by Hank because her dad is White. As a biracial person myself, having others (especially White people) try and tell you your identity isa pet peeve of mine. Historically, I would’ve been considered Black since my father is Black (due to the “one-drop” rule which I discuss below), despite having light skin. Yet these days most White people label me White because I’m White-passing. In both cases, White people choose my identity for me without listening to what I have to say, much like Hank does for Tapessa.

In White Hills by Rebecca Roanhorse, a White woman named Marissa is judged for having “too much” Native blood by her White in-laws. Marissa is your typical rich, White woman. She’s married to a wealthy business man named Andrew, is very concerned with her appearance, and lives in an HOA neighborhood in a big house. After going to the country club to announce her pregnancy to her husband, Marrissa makes the mistake of mentioning she’s a small percentage of Native (in reference to not being offended by a racist mascot) and her husband becomes visibly upset. The next day Elayne, Andrew’s mother, takes Marissa to a “specialist” who has racist phrenology drawings on the wall. Elayne explains that she doesn’t want a “mutt” grandbaby who may be dark skinned and “savage” (despite Marissa being white). The way in which Elayne views Marissa’s child is very reminiscent of the “one drop” rule. The one-drop rule was a legal principle based on a form of hypodescent, the assignment of a mixed-race child to the ethnic group considered "lower status." In other words, anyone with Black ancestry (no matter how far back) was considered Black. There were strict classifications for mixed-race individuals that were given offensive names like “Mulatto” and “octoroon,” I discuss more about how this racist system allowed the US to hold up White supremacy here. I mentioned above how annoying it is when other people (especially White people) decide my identity for me, butit’s even worse when the government does it.

And this leads me to blood quantum. Blood quantum is highly controversial and personal, and since I’m not Indigenous and therefore shouldn’t weigh in on such a heated debate I will tread carefully and stick to the facts as best I can. If you’re not familiar, Blood Quantum laws were enacted by the United States government to determine if someone was considered Native or not dependent on their degree of Native ancestry. The first "Indian Blood law" was originally created in 1705 when the Virginia government wanted to limit the civil rights of Native people and people of Native descent. Some Native tribes continue to use blood quantum to determine who can enroll for tribal membership, others do not. Leah Myers, a member of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, gives an example of the importance of tribal enrollment in her Atlantic essay:

"Tribal citizenship is more than symbolic. It determines eligibility for educational assistance, medical care, and other social benefits. Plus, only members can attend citizen meetings and vote in tribal elections. If my future children don’t meet the blood requirements for my tribe, they could still participate in events, cultivate plants in the traditional-foods garden, and take Klallam-language courses. But no matter how much they served the community in love and time, they would be deemed a 'descendant' and marked as separate."

Here’s a guide to Blood Quantum that gives both the arguments for and against blood quantum (full transparency, most Native sources I looked up were against these laws). Basically, blood quantum proponents argue that getting rid of blood quantum rules will make scarce resources even scarcer due to population growth and that it will allow disconnected outsiders and pretendians to join the tribe, which will erode their culture. Opponents of blood quantum argue that statistically it will eradicate Native nations, and point to the law's racist origins which were intended to control and erase Indigenous people. It also makes relationships complicated, as Indigenous people must calculate their potential children's percentage of Native blood and if they can enroll or not, which can put a strain on families. Blood quantum also conflicts with traditional Indigenous ideas about kinship and has“no basis in Native American traditions.” Essentially, both proponents and opponents disagree on the best way to preserve their tribal nations.

This idea is explored more fully in the story Quantum by Nick Medina. A woman named Amber is so obsessed with blood quantum and getting her children on the tribal roll that she favors her son Grayson, who’s 5/16 Native, while ignoring his brother Sam, who is only 1/8 Native, to the point where Sam is practically feral. She even tries to steal blood from a deceased Native man from their tribe so she can inject it into Sam.

Another story I enjoyed is Collections by Amber Blaeser-Wardzala, an incredibly creepy story about collecting human remains. Professor Smith, a liberal White woman, collects the heads of all the students she’s helped. She’s very proud of her collection: she has all the sexualities and genders, all the religions, and almost all the races. An Indigenous head would be her “white whale.” Megis (called Meg by the White professor) is understandably horrified by the collection, as is one of her Black classmates, but none of her white classmates seem to be. Professor Smith implies she wants to help Megis so she can have her head for her collection. Megis, the first person in her family to go to college, is desperate to stay on Professor Smith’s good side so she can maintain her scholarship and get a good job, and therefore doesn’t have much choice but to stay in the house of horrors. While an extreme example, the story underlines how troubling it is when museums collect human remains without consent and how academics will treat bodies as mere curiosities

“When [Native American artifacts and human remains] were acquired, collectors weren’t thinking of Indigenous peoples as human beings. People were resources, and human remains were to be preserved alongside pots” says Jacquetta Swift, the repatriation manager for the National Museum of the American Indian and member of the Comanche and Fort Sill Apache tribes. It’s the unfortunate reality that most human remains on display and in private collections, are unethically sourced from BIPOCs against their wishes.

This theme is also lightly touched on in Navajos Don’t Wear Elk Teeth by Conley Lyons where a Native man named Joe has a summer fling with White man named Cam. Cam collects teeth, some of which turn out to be human (he claims his last boyfriend was a Navajo man who gave him an elk tooth for “good luck” which Joe is dubious about). One of Joe’s friends refers to this as “bad medicine” and suggest Joe get an elder to sage his house. 

Not all the stories are quite so dark, however. Snakes are Born in the Dark by D. H. Trujillo felt like a Goosebumps book or a fun story kids tell to scare each other, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In the story, an Alaskan Native boy named Peter goes hiking in the woods with his white cousin Maddie and her rude boyfriend Adam. They come across Native petroglyphs in the Four Corners desert which Maddie and Adam both immediately touch. Peter warns them not to touch the carvings but Adam continues to do so while mocking him. Unsurprisingly both Maddie and Adam suffer unpleasant (though non-lethal and impermanent) fates which results in a humorous ending. It’s a fun twist on the classic “Indian curse” where we (and Peter) are rooting for the White people to get their comeuppance.

I could go on and on about the stories in the anthology, like Hunger by Phoenix Boudreau where two Cree college girls, Summer and Rain, outsmart a Wehtigo. Or Scariest. Story. Ever. By Richard Van Camp that touches on who gets to tell Native stories and how to share culture without stealing it. They’re all great. I also felt like I learned a lot while reading the anthology.