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June has passed in a rainbow flag covered coffin and as corporate entities put away their LGBTQ+ allyship for another year, it’s worth remembering that there’s plenty of small ways you can keep supporting those queer horror works that may get recommended to you but are forgotten by the time Pride month ends.  This year I decided to spend all of Pride month reading so I would have plenty of recs to keep up the barrage long after the rainbow flags come down.  Perhaps the biggest bonus of my month spent working on my queer horror to be read list was all the great works I found in addition to the ones I intended to read.  Here’s the first, but far from the last, of my LGBTQ+ horror book list.  On with the barrage!

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman 

I can’t tell you how far I was into this book before I realized the main character was never named.  But, when you’re a gay Goth teen who’s dropped out of high school and left home after your parents discovered your sexuality, is now living with your aunt while working at a vintage clothing shop, and have a crush on a ghost you met while walking alone on an empty strech of highway one night, what do names really matter?  

Vintage may sound like something out of a Christopher Pike novel, but I think you’ll find it’s something far more.  Think The Sixth Sense meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Our main character and his friends who populate the book are believably flawed, yet relatable, teenage personalities.  That goes for the more ghostly presences as well.  The prose is often much deeper and more intracrate than what you would expect from a YA novel.  It’s not often I would deem something both scary and erotogenic, but the ghost sex in this one is centerinly something different, and often times frightening.  As an added bonus, it mentions in the back of the book that one-fifth of the author’s royalties are donated to the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the Trevor Project.  This one isn’t to be missed.

Five out of five Cthulhu.  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

Oh, how I wanted to love this book!  A queer retelling of Dracula from the point of view of his polycule of wives?  Sounds great!  Sign me up!  Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly what the book was about.

The book is told from the point of view of Constanta, a young woman whom a dark, mysterious stranger finds dying after a village raid. The stranger gives to her the gift, and the curse, of undying life.  She and he-who-shall-not-be-named-Dracula spend hundreds of years together, sharing lovers of all sexes in their bed and in their stomachs.  Constanta is happy, but isolated.  That is until Count Noname meets another woman, Magdalena, whom Constanta conveniently falls in love with as well.  This pattern repeats itself when the trio meet the young Russian man Alexei. Definitely-not-Dracula, meanwhile, grows ever more controlling and monstrous to his lovers until they realize it’s either going to have to be them, or him.

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The speed at which whole centuries go by in the book makes everything seem a bit rushed.  People fall in love instantly so it’s hard to tell what emotions are real and what are mere vampire glamor.  The horror of having to kill to stay alive for centuries is mostly glossed over in favor of showing what a manipulative gaslighter Dracula can be and the events of the original novel are only given a single throwaway line in passing.  That’s not to say vampires bonding over their continued abuse by their creator isn’t an interesting story, it’s just not the one I was expecting when I picked up the book.  It was still an enjoyable read nonetheless.  

Three out of five Cthulhu. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

This is Not a Horror Movie by Sara Dobie Bauer

Welcome to summer vacation in Florida!  There’s the beach, lots of Stephen King books to read, the hot neighbor boy you’ve had a crush on for years, the annoying twin sister, the possibly haunted abandoned beach resort that’s eating people . . . Wait. What?  

That’s just a small part of what you’re going to get in This is Not a Horror Movie, a fun rom-com slash horror slash coming of age, well, just plain slash story (if you know the other meaning of that word).  Horror lover extraordinaire Emory is on his last summer vacation in Longboat Key, Florida with his family before he goes to college.  Conner, the boy next door of his dreams, is going to be a huge part of that vacation, along with Vincent Price stalkers, missing homeless Vietnam vets, demonic cults, kidnappings, and no one’s first times but certainly their best times.

Sometimes a book can be just a fun romp, and that’s definitely what this book is.  Most of the horror elements don’t even kick in until half-way through the book, but honestly, I didn’t even notice because I was having such a good time with the characters, who are both funny and endearing.  Emory’s horror knowledge is used less as a meta reference like in Scream and more of something to bond over with Conner.  Of course, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come in handy when their lives are on the line.  If you’re looking for a straight up horror story, like the title says, this probably isn’t what you’re looking for.  If you’re looking for a good time and a fun summer read, then call me. I’ll happily loan you my copy of this book.  

Four out of Five Cthulhu. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Rolling in the Deep and Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

A two for one special!  You know what’s really scary?  Mermaids.  Or at least you’ll be thinking so after you read these two books by Mira Grant about a couple of documentary film crews on assignment to find mermaids below the bathypelagic zone (also known as midnight zone) in the deepest parts of the ocean of the Mariana Trench.  

In what could be a prequel to the movie Underwater, or maybe Aquaman, it’s no spoiler to tell you the first of the crews of the research ship the Atargatis is met with an unimaginable tragedy.  Rolling in the Deep is the novella that tells the frighting story of what happened to the Atargatis from the points of view of its crew, scientists, film crew, professional mermaid performers, and tv personalities.  It’s as scientific and scary as anything by Michael Crichton, but it does leave you with some unanswered questions.

Into the Drowning Deep picks up right where Rolling in the Deep leaves off.  Seven years later, another crew, much better prepared (supposedly), is sent back to the Mariana Trench to either prove or disprove what happened aboard the Atargatis.  Into the Drowning Deep may be a bit long in the tooth when it comes to scientists arguing with each other, stereotypical big game hunters who are hired on as security, and evil corporations (going to need a “Does the Dolphin Die?” website now), but it does answer the bigger questions Rolling in the Deep leaves behind. And the biggest question of all that will keep you reading to the end, will they survive?

While these books are more in the traditional horror genre, they are filled with good representation of all sorts; hearing impaired characters, LGBTQ+ characters, neurodivergent characters, physically disabled characters, and many others.  There’s a little something for everyone in other words.     

Five out of Five for Rolling in the Deep, three out of Five for Into the Drowning Deep, giving an overall score of four out of Five Cthulhu. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ashley Slices

    July 7, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    Some awesome cool stuff to look forward to. Killer mermaids? Yes please

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 5: a Book Review

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I can’t believe we’re already at the mid-season finale of Monastery! Time indeed flies when you’re having a blast (or feel like you’ve been hit by a bag of bricks). The fifth installment of the novel is so action-packed I don’t even know where to start. All I will say right now is that we are in for a ride of a lifetime. Buckle up, folks. 

Plot

We begin the episode with Thomas preparing to leave Monastery, a plan put in motion by his mother which is thankfully quickly reversed. Can you imagine anyone else leading the investigation? Didn’t think so. Although Thomas is still dealing with his guilt over Pop Dennis’s death, he knows there is a lot at stake. After all, his cousins need directions to get to the bottom of things. 

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For arguably the first time the group comes across something of great importance as they discover Francis’s DNA test. The group then trails him and our antagonist George Turner on their quest for the money Albert hid before his death. The characters encounter a bunch of clues that the narrator basically screams are foreshadowing but David once again disregards them. Nice going, man. 

On the other end, we have an extremely disturbing scene involving Francis digging up his father’s grave and desecrating it. I don’t blame Nicole for throwing up at the sight. Seeing him getting more and more unhinged throughout the episode is unsettling as well as riveting.

Speaking of graves, we finally get a flashback sequence of the night Albert’s family covered up his murder. We still don’t know who committed the crime but can see who helped to bury the body aka who is complicit. The scene provides some great characterization to the adults of the ensemble cast. It also explains why George Turner is so involved in everything. Hell, it even manages to make me feel bad for Cassandra. Just for a moment, though. 

Our neighborhood bully Rick continues to be heavily entangled in the story. He and Thomas have a highly emotional altercation when Rick attempts to take his own life. It’s a shame Rick doesn’t tell Thomas why he’s doing this as it would alleviate both their guilt. However, it’s also a realistic exploration of how young children handle something they are not emotionally equipped to deal with.

It is purely because of Thomas’s intentions to help him that Rick ends up being a witness to something horrible. Let’s just say, Francis finally snaps and George meets his brutal end. I definitely won’t miss the guy but this doesn’t bode well for our main cast. It can’t get any crazier though, right? 

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Overall thoughts

This is easily the most exhilarating episode of Monastery so far, with action just seeping off the pages. A lot of other storylines take a backseat (such as the love triangle that is seemingly dead but not quite). Despite that, there is still some time for emotional moments to let the readers take a breath. Words can’t say how excited I am for the next part. I just hope against all hope all my favorites will come out safe. Only time will tell… 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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More from the author:

1. This episode of Monastery was probably the most morbid one yet (the flashback of the family covering up Albert’s murder, Francis digging up his body, Thomas climbing into his grave). What is your writing process when it comes to these types of scenes as they can be quite uncomfortable to think about?

I may well be a little unhinged, as I honestly love writing these morbid scenes – probably because they always feel like the reward you get after you’ve worked so hard for something, you know? As a writer, you try to build up to those big moments, so that they feel earned. My process then ties in with ensuring those big, morbid scenes aren’t gratuitous, that they make sense to the plot and the characters. The family covering up Albert’s murder comes from a place of despair and self-preservation; Francis digging up his body comes from a place of anguish and resentment, and Thomas, well, he’s a very driven young man who will stop at nothing to find the truth, and we’re only just beginning to see that.

2. The neighborhood bully Rick turned out to be a lot more integral to the story than I would’ve originally thought. What prompted you to connect a non-family character to the action to such extent and why him?

I always knew I wanted the regular cast to be an eclectic mix of characters – we have people of all generations of the family (from young Henry to nonagenarian Nana Beth), and even a couple of characters who aren’t family. There is no real reason for that, other than a quirk of mine. But Rick’s true purpose isn’t yet revealed – he just witnessed something immense, it now remains to be seen what he chooses to do about it…

3. I picked up on the theme of beauty throughout the installments of Monastery (especially Nicole and Cassandra’s interaction). Was this choice purely to provide some context for Cassandra’s character or to provide some social commentary about how beauty and youth are worshipped and as soon as a woman starts aging she’s discarded? Maybe a bit of a mix?

A little from column A, a little from column B. The commentary here ties in with the importance that the characters give to female beauty – Nicole is smart, resilient and courageous, but all everyone talks about is how beautiful she is, whereas Cassandra is often regarded as a former, faded beauty. Both women themselves attribute a lot of importance to beauty, an importance that was clearly hammered into them by the world around them. So, when we learn that Cassandra sacrificed her beauty to protect her family, it goes to show all that she was willing to sacrifice to keep her loved ones safe. She may not be grandma of the year – but she’s the hero of a lifetime. A really nasty, emotionally abusive hero, but a hero all the same!

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Jennifer Weigel on Surviving Gen X by Jo Szewczyk

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Surviving Gen X is a dark and twisted tale of sin and salvation that comes to us from Haunted MTL’s very own Jo Szewczyk. Delving into the depths of debauchery, dysfunction, and deliverance, we follow our protagonists as they navigate the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas, circa 1990. The book reads sort of like an acid trip or a fever dream or both… Good, bad, and ugly, with the gut-wrenching soul-sped journey of a candle lit at both ends, simultaneously fueled by cum, gasoline, and fire. The sexual exploits of our mostly unnamed narrator and lovelorn abused housewife Annie and friends, lovers, and accomplices craft an affair of more than the heart, of two (hundred thousand million billion) lost souls swimming eternally in a fishbowl, year after year after year after…

Surviving Gen X book cover
Surviving Gen X book cover

So you think you can tell…?

Surviving Gen X reads less as a credible story and more as an immersive experience, a theatrical performance in which you are whisked away to an alternate reality caked thick in glamour and glitter and grime. It is the sort of journey that leaves a stain on the psyche that won’t wash away no matter how hard you scrub at it. It is raw and provocative and, more than anything, screams to be seen, to be heard, to be rescued. All involved are adrift, seeking fulfillment in a world that refuses to acknowledge and cannot accept them for who they are. They are surviving, moment by moment, and in that space they are each and every one alone, isolated and forsaken. Like flecks of stardust strewn across the universe, our protagonists yearn to cast their glow, to shine forth, to unite, to be made whole… but the growing vastness of the space between them prevents such true connection and eventually all succumb to their own despair.

Despite being naked and vulnerable, this is nonetheless an adventure masked in mud, merriment, and mayhem, seeking friendship and truth as gritty glimmers of hope found only when one throws oneself into the darkest depths of dysfunction to claw their way back out through all of the layers. Only here can such elements of titillating triumph be told, through snippets of scenes that seem to spring forth from the most unreal and unlikely circumstances, like a failed double date at a family restaurant that devolves into potential death by bachelorette party. It is the spaghetti thrown at the wall in the hopes of sticking, trying desperately to hold on, to cling to some sense of relativity. The result is absurd as much as it is agonizing.

Running Over the Same Old Ground, What Have We Found?

Much like a re-birthing, or a regurgitation, this experience is messy and sometimes difficult to swallow. It defies definition and refuses reality, eschewing enjoyment even despite immersing itself in all of the pleasures of the flesh. Because what is left when the body, mind, heart, and spirit are disjointed? Just an off-kilter roller coaster jaunt through oblivion, careening off course in a fast and rapid burnout. There’s no getting off that ride once the kooky contraption gets going, best just to accept the struggle, hold on tight, and see it out to its crazy conclusion. We’re still trying to wash the confetti from our hair after falling out that window.

To quote the 2006 Wergle Flomp poetry contest winning poem, this is:

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A travesty / Of buffoonery. / As if a five-year-old child / Were pointing a handgun / At a masturbating clown. Nicholas Moore, How to Write a Poem

And a hauntingly beautiful and brilliant travesty of buffoonery it is… So I’m not going to rate this experience by Cthulhus; the Cthulhus are still too busy trying to untie the ropes to release the French midget hanging from the crystal chandelier. But if you yearn to see how it all unfolds, and to experience the gritty gaudy glitz in all of its slimy sleazy splendor, then you need only to pick up the book and read for yourself. It’s an adventure you won’t soon forget. You can find it here on Amazon. Plus if you order it now you’ll have it for VD (Valentine’s Day, ya perv, though maybe there isn’t really much difference)… Oh and here’s a sneak peek from13 Days of Krampus 2020…

And if you want to explore something of similar sentiment to set the mood, may I recommend watching Unholy by Sam Smith and Kim Petras? If the following YouTube window doesn’t work, you can find it directly here.

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