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

Left To You by Daniel Volpe

Robert Sinclair is a good kid who has a lot on his plate, but he pushes through it all and remains good-natured and hard-working. Working multiple jobs, struggling to remain afloat while caring for a mother suffering the end-stage of cancer, Robert doesn’t have much room in his life for anything else.
While working a dead-end job at L-Mart, Robert has developed a friendship with an elderly gentleman, Josef Lazerowitz. A former theology professor in Poland, Mr. Lazer is burdened by an unbelievable history, plagued with unspeakable secrets that will soon become Robert’s burden to bear.
Both of these men, Robert and Josef, are decent and sympathetic characters forced to experience their individual, horrific torments separated by more than half a century. In the end, what they’ll share is a terrible and shameful confidence that could destroy both of them and anything they hold dear.
Daniel Volpe constructs a captivating, mysterious tale that’s so thick with atmosphere and depth that the reader can hardly keep from being immersed in the experiences brought to life on the page. His detailed exploration of Josef’s life in 1940s Poland is gripping and profoundly vivid, almost painfully so. The author’s unique portrait of the supernatural world and how it interacts with our own was fascinating. As the story delves into those things only near the latter half of the book, it still doesn’t feel like the reader is short-changed or left wanting. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to those who enjoy a bit of historical fiction with their horror.
I will suggest that one scene in this book troubled me, and it involves a bit of a spoiler, but I’ll do my best to dance around that by explaining a little bit about my own life, hopefully framing why I found it disturbing without telling you about the scene itself. I had a dog named Molly. She was a terrific, atypical chihuahua who was perpetually thrilled to meet new people. When she was seven years old, she was taken from me by cancer in her blood. That little girl died in my arms, in what I can only describe as a traumatic experience without going into detail. I now have a dog who is half golden retriever and half German shepherd and husky–funny enough, named Talia–who is two years old. She’s been with me since December of 2019. Fans of Volpe’s work might find that last bit to be a strangely serendipitous thing. Having a personal connection with both a golden retriever and a dog named Molly, there’s a particular scene that I found difficult.

I picked this title up as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com in October of 2021. You can obtain a copy for yourself by going to the website or downloading the app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

Billy Silver by Daniel J. Volpe, Narrated by John Wayne Comunale

Billy and Jeannie are definitely not Jack and Diane. They’re not the sort of couple Mellencamp would immortalize in song. It’s more likely they’d be immortalized by a band like Cannibal Corpse, preferably before the departure of Chris Barnes.
Billy Silver is a junkie and an alcoholic, a guitarist and singer, and an all-around degenerate. Despite all of his flaws, and there are many, he’s also captivating and occasionally funny. Within the first few pages, you’ll come to loathe him. That sensation never quite disappears, even as you begin to feel a small amount of sympathy for him along the way.
With his life falling apart even worse than it already had, Billy finds his way into a tattoo parlor where the mysterious Talia pays him to obtain a new piece of ink under the pretense of needing practice before the shop officially opens. It doesn’t take long before Billy’s self-destructive nature takes on an altogether more horrific and direct manifestation.
Daniel Volpe captures Billy and the other characters who populate his dingy, filth-riddled corner of existence with such detail that you can almost smell the halitosis and urine as the story carries you along.
Volpe brings the streets and back alleys of the city to life in crushing, grimy detail that is further enhanced by the narration provided by John Wayne Comunale. These two men together provide us with something as splendid as it is awful. I’m glad I’ve snagged more audiobooks narrated by Comunale because he is not only an excellent writer but a truly amazing narrator.

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:

Strawberry Shortcake by Daniel J. Volpe

One of the highlights of KillerCon Austin 2021 was the quality of the performances that made the Top 3 in the annual Gross-Out Contest.
Strawberry Shortcake was the second-place story written and performed by Daniel J. Volpe. Under normal circumstances, this story would have been the unquestionable winner. There was, however, a dark horse contender who slipped past and snagged victory from the fox’s teeth.
Don’t let the cover art fool you. Daniel J. Volpe has written no wholesome tale of cartoonish glee and childlike wonder. Or maybe it is? The protagonist does indeed recall fond memories from childhood desserts as he discovers a delicious and unexpected treat in the port-a-potty at the local county fair. Even our narrator finds himself a bit surprised by just how blessed he is. He even forgets to take a shit. We’ve all been there, right?
Strawberry Shortcake is perhaps the closest I’ve come to reading something that can be defined as stomach-churning, which is high praise coming from me. What are you waiting for? It’s short, it’s sweet–if we believe the narrator–and it should surely leave you gagging for more.

Strawberry Shortcake is a Godless exclusive title, all proceeds going to charity. You can pick this title up for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on your favorite mobile devices.