Candace Nola’s Breach drags us along with Laraya Jamison into a disorienting and terrifying battle for survival in a world alien from our own. The gradual revelation of a world that feels as fantastic and dreamlike as it is sinister and dangerous is a thrilling adventure for readers/listeners, even as beleaguered Laraya struggles to learn the rules of this new world and means to find her way home. A camping trip with her boyfriend and two closest friends descends into a violent and horrific disaster as a creature defying comprehension slaughters the others, forcing Laraya into an exhausting race for her life through a forest that transitions into something unfamiliar. Growing up in these woods, she knows she’s far from home, but Laraya has no idea how she arrived in this strange place or how to return to the world she knows. Laraya’s journey of discovery through this new world is equal parts fantasy and horror. The true journey is of self-discovery as she learns of her connection to this realm and the extraordinary allies in her battle against monstrous beings who seek to destroy her or follow her through the breach and back to our world. Jessica McEvoy’s narration brings Laraya to life, filling the character’s account of events with emotion that conveys the harrowing nature of her experiences.
Candace Nola’s Bishop takes us to the wilderness of Alaska, on and off the beaten path in Tongass National Forest, where Troy Spencer is about to begin a desperate search for his sister and niece. Erin and Casey have been missing for a couple of days, and they’ve been alone in the wilds for nearly a week by the time Troy arrives in Ketchikan to begin the search. Venturing deep into the mountainous wilderness, racing against the clock, he’ll settle for nothing less than the best guide he can find. Unfortunately, the most knowledgable guide for those parts of Alaska is a gruff, solitary indigenous man who goes by the name of Bishop, and Bishop is a man of few words and many secrets. Troy knows he’s running out of time, but he has no idea how much danger his family is in, as an ancient and terrible presence exists in the forest, stalking and terrorizing Erin and Casey. Bishop knows it’s there, but Troy’s proximity limits his ability to do anything about it, and nothing will stop the evil from taking what it wants unless Bishop can free the beast inside of himself. Candace Nola brings the cold Alaskan wilderness to life, immersing us in the damp, chilly environment from which there might be no escape. Bringing her fascination with survivalism and the tools necessary for survival to bear, Nola brings Casey, Troy, and Bishop to life in vivid detail and three-dimensional depth, forcing us to experience the same tense, disquieting struggle as her characters. Jamison Walker does a decent job of providing the characters with voices of their own, distinctly separating them.
When Hank Flynn stumbles onto the site of what will soon become Protection, Kansas, it’s immediately apparent to Wallace Bixby and his daughter, Josie, that there’s something special about this grievously injured man. Nursed back to health, Hank settles in and becomes a member of the growing community as long as God will allow it. Protection is aptly named, with Hank Flynn around, because there’s no threat that Hank won’t combat to keep the people of his home safe, whether marauder, drought, or worse. It soon becomes clear that “worse” is going to be the case more often than not, as strange and evil forces align to seek out Hank where he’s found peace. But Hank is a man of many skills and a haunted past that propels him forward as he does God’s will wherever he’s called to do so. The malevolent beings that hunt him down would be wise to avoid Protection, Kansas because Hank is no stranger to raising Cain when the situation merits it. Candace Nola has written a spiritual horror stand-in for Little House On the Prairie, punctuating the prosaic struggles of frontier life with body and soul battles against the denizens of Hell. It’s a little bit Kung Fu (the 1970s television series) and a little bit Supernatural all rolled into one captivating package. The narration provided by Jamison Walker is dramatic, and the voices of the assorted characters are distinctly their own. I’d never encountered his narration with previous audiobook titles, so I’m not sure if this title is representative of his other work, but it was suitable for this book.
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.