Beyond Reform by Jon Athan, Aron Beauregard, and Jasper Bark

When I first heard about Beyond Reform, and the authors involved in the book, I knew it was something I had to read. This need became more pronounced when Brian Keene announced the nominees for the Splatterpunk Awards at KillerCon Austin 2022. As a nominee myself, in the same category, I felt a compulsion to dive into the nominated works from my competitors/colleagues/friends. They’re not mutually exclusive categorizations.
Upon reading Beyond Reform, I felt confident that it would be the title that blew the rest of us out of the water. As it turns out, I was correct, and I was waiting to post this review until after I’d confirmed my assessment.
Beauregard, Athan, and Bark capture the theme of Beyond Reform in essentially every conceivable sense. The stories are grim, fatalistic, captivating, sometimes amusing, and often horrifying in their portrayal of the worst aspects of human nature.
Aron Beauregard kicks it all off with the title story, Beyond Reform. Hoping to score some quick cash and have some fun along the way, Marcus finds himself the focus of a couple’s revenge. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, Marcus has made enemies of more than just the two of them, and even the best-laid plans fall apart sometimes. Beauregard pulls no punches and dares the reader to flinch as he ups the ante with each new roll of the dice.
Midnight Glory by Jasper Bark introduces us to a dysfunctional couple with a seemingly unlimited capacity to hurt one another and a similar capacity to sustain the damage. The source of this seemingly supernatural horror is rooted in a gift that turned out to be a bit more than bargained for and a punishment a long time coming. Bark’s grotesque and graphic sexual imagery was almost gag-inducing, and that’s something to be proud of.
Jon Athan hits us next with Tortured Until Proven Innocent, a tale of a vile sexual predator who appears to be getting his comeuppance at the hands of distraught parents. In Athan’s work, as in real life, the stories don’t always have a happy ending, and he doesn’t shy away from hammering that point home with painful clarity.
The Martini Club is Beauregard’s second addition to the collection, and its focus on desperate, lonely women obsessed with rehabilitation and sexual fantasies oriented around a convicted serial killer is a thriller, for sure. As it turns out, not all of the women in The Martini Club have the same sort of fantasies in mind when they finally have the object of their obsessions at hand.
Athan’s Dead But Alive introduces us to a funeral director with a dark and perverse secret that knows no limits, just as the man knows no shame. The disgusting, depraved, and uncompromising delivery from Athan only makes the conclusion to the tale all the more satisfying.
And finally, Jasper Bark concludes the volume with A Most Chemical Wedding, the most unique of the tales included in Beyond Reform. While it is indeed a tale of revenge like much of what came before it, it’s one with numerous twists and wry humor in the mix. Spirituality, alchemy, and a voice that breaks the fourth wall with obvious pleasure make Bark’s second inclusion a fun and fascinating way to wrap everything up.
As you can probably tell, I’m quite a fan of this title.
I’ve heard it said there’s no shame in losing to the best, and the three authors involved in this project showcased why they are some of the best at what they do.

Baker’s Dozen Edited by Candace Nola

I had the immense pleasure of reading Baker’s Dozen in advance to write a blurb for the anthology. It seemed only natural that I would also be writing a review of the collection now that the release date is looming on the near horizon. Rarely has a themed anthology come together so perfectly in capturing a motif and carrying it through all of the component pieces included. There is no question that Baker’s Dozen is overall one of the best anthologies I’ll have the pleasure of reading. Paraphrasing what I said in my blurb, this is a delicious concoction, albeit neither safe nor healthy. If you’re looking for those qualities, you’re in the wrong place.
It would have been a challenge, bringing this assortment of spectacularly imaginative authors together and compiling an anthology that wasn’t worth reading; there’s no doubt that Candace Nola deserves a great deal of credit for editing this volume, though. Anthologies are only as good as the editor who brings them together, and there’s no question that this collection was in excellent hands from the beginning.
Christine Morgan kicks it all off with the period piece, Pretzels of God, spinning a tale of jealousy and bitterness, of sacred vows broken most violently and unpredictably.
Apple Pie & Diamond Eyes by Chris Miller tells the story of an aptly-named Karen being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, Karen has a passel of teenage girls in tow, as a trio of criminals gets their just desserts in a truly literal sense.
Ruthann Jagge’s The Piebird introduces us to Flora Corolla, so desperate to bring pride to her family’s bakery that she’ll accept guidance from the most unlikely and untrustworthy source.
Next Best Baker by Jeff Strand is perversely hilarious. A man after my own heart, I feel like he watches cooking and baking competitions the same way I do, imagining the worst conceivable surprise ingredients being tossed into the mix and laughing as he envisions it all playing out. I assure you that this is no baking competition for the faint of heart.
Aron Beauregard hits us with A Muffin In The Oven, and he hits us hard. The announcement of a friend’s pregnancy–an event that should be full of warmth and cheer–turns sour and horrific as the facts surrounding the paternity come to light.
Carver Pike’s Blueberry Hill is a tale of bullying, teenage cruelty, revenge, and witchcraft. This one is, without a doubt, the hardest story to read, in my opinion. Hillary Hightower doesn’t deserve any of the terrible things that happen to her, but when seeking retribution, one should probably be careful what they wish for. This story has the “dig two graves” adage on full display.
They Are Always Watching is equal parts sad and terrifying, and Patrick C. Harrison, III leans into both qualities heavily. A daughter struggling with her mother’s declining mental capacity is forced to face the truth of what seems like little more than her debilitated mother’s fevered mind.
My Lil’ Cupcake by Lee Franklin floats us through a dysfunctional marriage and one woman’s desire to find freedom from the domineering, cruel, and awful men in her life. The method by which Lindsey seeks her emancipation is something visceral to behold.
Kenzie Jennings provides us with the worst Florida has to offer in Just A Local Thing. A family on vacation finds themselves at the mercy of the perverse whims of a seemingly prescient baker.
Of Dough And Cinnamon brings us heartbreak and satisfying vengeance as Daniel Volpe tells the story of a widower who experiences one more loss than he can handle.
Rowland Bercy Jr. introduces us to the most unlikely cryptid in Homegrown Comeuppance. A fierce rivalry between two bakers reaches a horrific conclusion that just might spell the end for not only those involved but also the innocent residents of a Brazilian town.
Candace Nola showcases not only her editorial skills with Baker’s Dozen but her skill as a writer as well. County Contest provides us with a glimpse of a small business still struggling to recapture the success once known when Horace’s wife was still around. As a new librarian arrives in town, it seems like her sole purpose in life is to tear down everyone around her with sarcasm and bitterness. But maybe that bitterness is just what the recipe calls for when it’s time to unveil a new flavor.
Death, And A Donut by Michael Ennenbach is a most peculiar yet beautiful love story, built on a substrate of random, wanton bloodshed and disorder. A cacophony of disaster paves the way through this narrative, leading us to a surprisingly touching conclusion.
You can’t go wrong with a single piece in this collection, and I recommend dedicating some time to taking in the fantastic illustrations that accompany the text. This whole volume was painstakingly assembled with obvious love and care like the best recipes always are.

https://www.uncomfortablydark.com

Sew Sorry by Aron Beauregard and Daniel Volpe

Aron Beauregard and Daniel Volpe work exceptionally well together, seamlessly crafting a fantastic and surprising two-person anthology. Sew Sorry tells two vastly different tales that begin at the same fateful point in time. While the skin might be different between the two stories, there are underlying similarities in the meat that stand out.
We begin with Aron’s contribution, Charity’s Cackle. “Hurt people, hurt people” was the adage that ran through my mind the whole time I read this component of the book. Henry was a good kid, a bright kid, and it wasn’t his fault that his mother was a terrible, compulsive, and judgmental bitch. None of that stops asshole kids from being the assholes we expect them to be, as Henry experiences extreme bullying in response to his mother’s revealed behavior associated with her ignominious death.
The theme of damage radiating further damage is pronounced in this story, and it’s heartbreaking to have that additional layer to the narrative. I can’t say more, without giving too much away, but there’s a certain sense that fate was at work by the time the reader finishes the first half of this book.
Daniel takes up the baton with The Strays, diverting from the initial hostile confrontation we’ve already witnessed, but from a profoundly different perspective. The homeless man we first felt sorry for in Charity’s Cackle turns out to be a bit less sympathetic than he at first appeared.
Garrison is a broken man who has allowed regret from his past to poison him, turning him into a truly awful human being, assuming he wasn’t that way, to begin with. With Mary and Desiree in tow, Garrison’s only concern is for himself and what he can gain from those around him.
The way these two stories diverge and come together at multiple points is masterfully achieved by Beauregard and Volpe. Reminiscent of movies like Crash (not the Cronenberg film) or Magnolia, an interconnectedness between people is on display. Regardless of our seeming differences and backgrounds, the world has a way of forming collisions and coalescence that we’d never anticipate.
As graphic and vile as aspects of these two stories are–and there’s a whole hell of a lot of them–there’s so much storytelling skill at work that one can’t help but admire the literary talent both authors bring to the project.

Sew Sorry is part of the 31 Days of Godless event taking place for October of 2021 at http://www.godless.com. You can pick this up for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app. The link is below:

The Slob by Aron Beauregard

Vera Harlow is a sweet lady, compassionate and kind. While she has certain quirks and residual coping mechanisms associated with a childhood stifled by unhealthy surroundings brought about by mental illness, she has managed to not only thrive, but to transform her trauma responses into strengths. The time we spend getting to know Vera, delving into her tragic backstory and the wholesome life she and her husband have built for themselves, ultimately makes everything else in this book all the more awful.
Going door-to-door, selling a new carpet cleaner with effectiveness only someone who prizes cleanliness could manage, Vera has built up a tidy sum. With a new child on the way, she has a limited interval before she has to stop venturing out like she has been. It’s her final day of sales when she decides to venture down the dead-end road to the ramshackle house where the titular Slob resides. Why do we call him The Slob? It’s an excellent question, one Beauregard spends almost three full pages answering, as he describes the man in vivid and repulsive detail.
As with Vera, as the keys turn in the locks that secure the front door of The Slob’s home, we’re trapped and plagued with an increasingly uneasy feeling that will prove to be all too prescient. The filth and madness of Vera’s early life prepared her for a great deal, but nothing could prepare anyone for being trapped with The Slob.
Beauregard’s vividly detailed and gripping narrative is a masterpiece of transformative pain and horror that will make you want to scrub your walls and floors until everything is spotless, but after reading The Slob, you will probably never feel clean again.