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A short story anthology is a remarkable thing. The creators come together to offer their variation on a group theme. Each is telling a different story, with a different voice. And yet they all have to come coherently together.

If that is the expectation one has for an anthology, Tainted Love delivered. And just in time for Valentine’s Day, a holiday that could use a little more blood.

The stories are all about love going wrong. All sorts of love. Because, let’s be fair, every sort of love can get twisted. 

I can’t say there are more than one or two bad stories in the collection. Some are better than others, of course. My personal favorite is the second one, Vanitas by Azzurra Nox and Erica Ruhe. This story took so many twists and turns, tossing up so many misdirections that I didn’t see the ending coming at all.

Many of the stories are short, even for short stories. This, I think, is a plus. A short story can be absorbed on a bus ride or lunch break. A good short story makes breaking your soul into pieces an easy thing to fit into your day. There isn’t one that felt like I was sloughing through it. 

At the end of the stories, there are interviews with the authors. This was a fun surprise. It’s always fascinating to hear from authors about their writing methods and thoughts on the story. Maybe it’s just me, but I love nothing more than when people discuss what they’re passionate about. There was plenty of passion in the stories themselves, of course. But there was passion of a different sort in the interviews.

One thing I must warn you about. These stories don’t pull punches. Dark situations are discussed. Stories about stillbirths, rape, abuse and torture. Of course, that should be obvious. We are talking about stories of tainted love, after all. While many of them involve ghosts and vampires, some are about far more realistic monsters. Those are, of course, the most horrifying. 

If you haven’t read Tainted Love, it’s worth the read. It’s fun, emotionally damaging, exciting, and a little sexy. Just like any good love story. 

Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Woom: An Extreme Horror Novel

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“That doesn’t invalidate it,” Angel said. “There’s no statute of limitations on pain.”

The Plot

Angel is a man who knows pain: physical, mental, sexual. The story begins with Angel visiting Room 6 at the Lonely Motel and ordering a plus-size sex worker to his room. What comes next is Angel’s retellings of painful stories while performing sexual acts on the sex worker, Shyla.

The novel reads as a book of short stories, as Angel relays stories to Shyla and she tells him stories back. This is a novel of pain and disgust. Angel’s stories are so dark and traumatic that Shyla can’t believe they are true. As Angel bares his soul, we see a side of him that is melancholy and unable to process hurt in a natural way.

The Verdict

This novel is full of disgusting visuals and isn’t afraid to get dirty. This truly is an extreme horror novel. As a warning, there is discussion of feces, blood, rape, sex, and body horror. This novel is not for the faint of heart. You’ll close this short novel feeling dirty. Angel is a character that begs for sympathy while his stories narrate that he may not be as innocent as he perceives.

When the subtitle says this novel is extreme horror, believe it. Only the strong will survive Duncan Ralston’s Woom. It is more splatterpunk than anything, but true literary quality lies beneath the filth.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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