The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones

For all it’s originality, dark humor, and captivating story, The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones does not flow well at all. The innovative, cinematic style the author employs in this book serves to be more distracting and jarring than I suspect he intended…but it’s different, and that makes it worthy in its own right.

It’s less experimental than House Of Leaves or other books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, but the experimental nature of the narrative doesn’t work as well as in some of those other novels. This is not to say it isn’t a good book, because it absolutely is…but it could have taken a few hours to read vs. a few days, if only it had the same natural flow and cadence I’ve seen with other writing from Jones.


Bloboids vs. Faeries by Jeff Beesler

I had the pleasure of reading this book as a beta reader, so my experience with it may be slightly different from anyone who picks up the final version of the story, though not in any major way.

Bloboids vs. Faeries is a great book for anyone who enjoys fantasy (naturally), science fiction, and even horror (yes, I said horror). When reading this book, I was struck by the realization that it was essentially a zombie apocalypse tale, set in a fantasy world where a faerie community is devastated by the arrival of the insidious, spreading Bloboid threat…it’s just that we’re dealing with Bloboids in place of zombies and faeries in place of the usual human victims. There’s tension, there’s excitement, and there’s high-stakes action.

I’m sure there are people out there who wouldn’t be at all interested in reading a book that’s ostensibly about faeries. Don’t let the title dissuade you from checking this one out. It’s not what you might expect.I won’t spoil any of this for you, but the character I sincerely hoped to see come through the ordeal unscathed definitely did not.

Gone To See the River Man by Kristopher Triana

Weaving together elements of American blues folklore, urban fantasy, and extreme horror, Kristopher Triana creates something entirely captivating and unsettling with Gone To See the River Man.

Lori is a middle-aged woman who cares for her brain-damaged and childlike older sister. She’s also a middle-aged woman who’s developed the same unhealthy obsession with an incarcerated serial killer we see in real life whenever and wherever one looks. The difference here is that she is sent on what seems like a simple quest by the killer, to retrieve a key and deliver it to The River Man. Nothing is quite so simple, though.

As the story continues, it becomes clear that Lori has an exceedingly disturbing past. The narrative we find ourselves caught up in becomes progressively darker and more uncomfortable as things become increasingly surreal and nightmarish in the real world as well as within Lori’s mind.

As we approach the end, we find ourselves wondering how we could have expected it to end any other way, as we experience the heartbreak for ourselves that no one within the story is human enough to feel.

All Men Are Trash by Gina Ranalli

Gina Ranalli has managed to write something cathartic with AMAT (I’m going to avoid using the proper title since I already got banned from Facebook for seven days by sharing a photo of the cover). This book is something necessary in response to cultures of incels and MRAs, as well as the sheer volume of toxic, sexist reactionary trolls attacking any attempt at inclusion or acknowledgment of intersectionality. In another (more superficial) sense, it’s also a bit of fantasy violence geared toward women in the same way literally decades of fiction has provided men with a plethora of fantasy violence. It works on all fronts with equal efficacy.

Reading this book, I was reminded of two other works of fiction. There was a television series, Masters of Horror, quite a few years back, and one of the self-contained stories was entitled “The Screwfly Solution.” The other fictional work it reminded me of was David Moody’s series of books that started with the novel, Hater. Both of those works were built around the concept of sudden, unexpected violent impulses arising within the population and a stark division between “us” and “them” becoming the way of the new world. All Men Are Trash takes a similar concept and infuses it with strong feminist sensibilities and a whole lot of satisfying violence.

This is perhaps not a good book for anyone prone to say things like, “Not all men,” or maybe it’s precisely the sort of thing they should read…to gain a little bit of perspective.

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones & Gilly Segal

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight is not a book I think I normally would have picked up, but I’m glad I did. I’m not the biggest fan of “young adult” literature in most instances, but this is so much more than just a young adult novel. This is something that I could see being considered a classic someday, decades down the road. Like so many of the classics, this book intimately and expertly peels away superficial elements and displays integral bits of human nature.

It’s initially offputting, reading a book entirely written in first-person with alternating chapters from the two protagonists’ perspectives, but they’re so well-crafted and uniquely voiced that it quickly ceases to be an issue. It’s a little bit experimental, in that sense, but I’ve never been one to shy away from experimental literature. In that sense, it’s reminiscent (in the loosest way) of the novel-length poem Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski, just not focused on two lovers and not spanning the whole of history.

Campbell and Lena attend the same high school but exist in different worlds until a riot at a football game forces them together as unlikely partners attempting to find safety and security. The two girls begin developing a bond, despite their differences and cultural ignorance with respect to one another’s lives and experiences, showcasing not that we’re all the same (because that’s a naive perspective) but that we can find common ground and understanding even when we aren’t the same. Just when they think the worst is over, when they believe they’re in the home stretch, everything around them seemingly collapses into chaos and violence.

It’s almost prescient, how timely this book ultimately ended up being, with the events of 2020 and the turmoil surrounding race relations…but that’s how it is with the best books, they help to shine a light at just the right time in the right place, quite the opposite of the circumstances that brought Campbell and Lena together.

Mount Fitz Roy by Scott Sigler

An amazing book, written by Scott Sigler, and expertly narrated by Ray Porter. I’m actually sort of glad the book was initially made available only through audiobook format (and is still only available as an audiobook, as near as I can tell). The quality of the narration only helps to enhance what is a thrilling, claustrophobic adventure.
Scott Sigler’s Earthcore was an amazing combination of adventure, science fiction, and horror…the sort of thing that Sigler excels at providing his readers with. Mount Fitz Roy is an expectation-shattering follow-up to that novel, with nods to most of Mr. Sigler’s existing catalog of material tossed into the mix.
This book has a little bit of everything. We have a race to locate and unearth a massive treasure buried beneath an Argentinian mountain, we have multiple parties seeking revenge against an alien species that’s remained hidden for millennia deep within the Earth, and (of course) we have aliens and lots of violence. We also have a fair bit of drama and loss embedded into the narrative in a way that makes the high stakes of everything hit home with quite the impact.
Fans of Earthcore might be a little surprised with the direction this story ends up going, but I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones is a haunting tale of childhood, family, and loss. Told from the perspective of an adult looking back on a tale that began when he was 12 years old, it feels authentic and captures the way a child might have interpreted things.
Jones weaves a fascinating tale of a young indigenous boy who discovers the ghost of his father lurking in their home. What begins as a story with a potentially uplifting tone gradually and insidiously becomes increasingly sinister and tense.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that there’s something akin to a combination of the mythologies associated with tulpas and golems involved in the manifestation of the ghost. I’m not familiar enough with indigenous folklore that I can pinpoint any particular element that corresponds to this story.
Listening to the audiobook for this story was particularly captivating because the narrator did an excellent job of capturing a cadence and accent that approximated the tone and speech patterns I’m familiar with from indigenous people I’ve known. That touch made the narrative feel more like someone was simply telling me a story from their own life.

Treif Magic by John Baltisberger

John Baltisberger’s Treif Magic is at once a captivating urban fantasy/horror tale and simultaneously an introduction to Jewish culture and mythology/spirituality for those who are viewing the story from outside of that society. I’ve always argued that the best fiction still manages to teach us something while we’re immersed within it and the best lessons are framed in a narrative structure to better convey and reinforce the information to be learned. This book succeeds in proving that point quite well.
As a story, Treif Magic introduces us to the world of Ze’ev Kaplan, a man who could have been a rabbi if life had turned out differently. Instead, encounters with inhuman forces of both evil and good have marked him and led him down a path that’s molded him into something that’s equal parts private detective, magician, and exorcist.
In my opinion, it’ll be a damn shame if Ze’ev doesn’t become as iconic within the urban fantasy genre as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden because there are definitely strong parallels between the two characters while Baltisberger manages to avoid a lot of the “Mary Sue” narrative cheats that Butcher employs in his Dresden Files, ultimately making Ze’ev the more human and relatable of the two characters. In that sense, the character is more in line with Anton Gorodetsky from Lukyanenko’s Night Watch (and its sequels), Carl Kolchak from the classic television series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, or Harry D’Amour from Clive Barker’s literary universe (and the film adaptation of The Last Illusion, Lord of Illusions).
Filled with supernatural creatures, powerful necromancers, magic, action, and mystery, there’s so much to love about this book.
Without offering up any spoilers, I suspect many readers will come away wanting more and with a burning question begging for an answer: Who is this “she” that the necromancer mentions near the end?
Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. May as well pick up a copy for a friend or family member too, since it’s always fun to have people you can discuss your books with.