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.
If you’ve already subjected yourself to Butcher’s coprophilic masterpiece included in Scats, Splats, and Stupid Twats, you’re already familiar with Kreb, The Chocolateman. You can think of him as something akin to Candyman, a monstrous, supernatural being who comes when you make the mistake of uttering his name. Of course, instead of bees and honey, his aesthetic is purely fecal. This larger volume can be considered the origin story for The Chocolateman. Butcher takes this opportunity to tell us how Kreb found his way into our world and our bathrooms in search of delicious choc-choc. James Tooth appears to be a successful man with a loving family, but he is tormented by a horrible secret that troubles him more profoundly as the 22nd anniversary of his parents’ deaths approaches. James is terrified of poop and with good reason. Throughout the story, Butcher provides readers with glimpses of James’s childhood, the horrible events of 22-years before, when he was only ten years old. As the past catches up with him, taking a terrible toll on both himself and those around him, he has no choice but to face the nightmare that’s haunted him the previous two decades, his older brother, Kreb. Mixed up in the whole mess, James’s drug dealer, Mucklow, and his bodybuilding lover, Isabella, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time over and over again, leading them on a collision course with the Tooth family and The Chocolateman himself. Amazingly enough, considering how absurdly revolting the concept of Chocolateman is, Jonathan Butcher still populates this tale with well-developed and sympathetic characters. Grotesque, gory, and visceral as much of the narrative happens to be, it’s also fantastically well-written and articulated in such a way as to never seem quite as gratuitous as it’s clearly meant to be. Chocolateman isn’t simply a collection of repulsive gags and toilet humor. At its heart, it’s a story about family, fears, and the ways we cause harm when trying to do what we believe to be the right thing.
This title was released on http://www.godless.com as part of the 31 Days of Godless event for October of 2021. You can pick it up for yourself by going to the Godless website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The links for purchase are available below:
You’re a 15-year-old boy living with a foster family when you awaken to the sounds of shattering glass followed by what can only be violence. This isn’t the first time your short life has been punctuated with instances of horrific bloodshed, and if you choose to join the band of peculiar killers reveling in the chaos they’ve created in what is your third home in only a third as many years, this most certainly will not be the last. Don’t worry, this isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure story, and this pivotal decision is taken out of your hands and placed in the skilled, albeit sadistic custody of Chandler Morrison. Entering the dizzying narrative of Until the Sun, you’ll be swept along currents of blood, strange drugs, and adolescent hormones until you find yourself standing dazed, in the sunlight of a new day, waiting for the ride to end. Morrison thoroughly captures that sense of being caught up in a life that feels entirely out of your control. This extends so far as to include the fact that, as a reader, you’ll see the final moments coming long before our protagonist does…and you’ll experience sensations that range from pity to heart-wrenching sympathy as you witness events unfolding. We’re forced to wonder–if we’re being honest with ourselves–whether we’d be any more capable of wresting control from those who steer us along the destructive path ahead of us if we’d experienced the same tragic and disorienting life of young Casanova. I suspect we’ll never know, and we should be grateful for the fact that the dreadful sequence of events befalling that young man could only happen in fiction. Morrison provides us with a vampire story that is both more and less than that. Until the Sun is a dark, twisted, and perverse coming-of-age tale that abruptly detours us through the worst possible paths to reach the conclusion. A conclusion, I might add, that is equal parts hilarious and cruel in both its predictability and subversion of what a reader might expect when first choosing the book. John Wayne Comunale’s narration is effective in bringing to life the characters who often feel like caricatures of people we might have known in our own lives, or maybe people we’ve been at different points in our lives. There probably isn’t a narrator who would have been better suited for this drug-fueled, bloody, and irreverent combination of various horror subgenres.
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:
Follow the Maggot Wagon takes the road trip narrative in a deliciously awful direction. Jamie and Adam had been friends for most of their lives, but they’d gradually grown apart as Adam’s impulse control issues and drug use led him down paths Jamie wouldn’t follow. Though Adam’s poor impulse control might have helped to push the friends apart, it was also the thing that contributed to years of pranks, dares, and manipulation by Jamie and other friends. Old tensions arise as the two friends find themselves stuck behind the maggot wagon, a truck that smells like it’s hauling a full load of carrion beneath the tarp in the back, and Jamie takes this as an opportunity to push Adam into doing something risky and juvenile, pushing his buttons along the way. The true surprise of Essig’s story isn’t what’s going to happen, as the reader begins to suspect where things are going long before we arrive at the farmhouse. The shock is the motivation behind it. Throughout the story, we catch glimpses of the eroding facade of civility between the two friends, as the interactions take on an increasingly cruel and bitter tone. We think we know why we’re speeding toward the inevitable outcome, only to find ourselves just as stunned as Jamie and Adam are when more secrets get revealed. I suspect many of us have friendships like this, where old grudges and recrimination are difficult to forget and perhaps more challenging to forgive. Thankfully, most of us don’t decide to follow the maggot wagon as Jamie and Adam did. This was an excellent character study, portraying both individuals with vivid and tragic dimensionality. Both Jamie and Adam are relatable, and that makes it all the more disturbing because one has to wonder how much or how little it might take to push us into either the driver’s or passenger’s seat.
This title was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for 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:
Growing Dark truly showcases the eclectic range Triana is capable of in a way a reader would otherwise only discover if they took the time to read half a dozen books. Running the gamut from intense cosmic horror to something that could be considered kid-friendly, there’s no doubt any lover of dark fiction will find something to love in this short collection. From the Storms, A Daughter kicks everything off, sharing the story of a town that’s been going through hard times, and they’re only getting harder as the region gets flooded. First responders in boats are struggling to locate stragglers to take them to safety, but what they find instead is evidence that there’s more to fear than the water. Eaters is a post-apocalyptic excursion into the remnants of the old world, as a small party of hunters is clearing the area of zombies. As with most tales like that, things don’t go smoothly. Triana manages to bring some originality to the topic, and an ending that readers/listeners are unlikely to see coming. Growing Dark is a coming-of-age tale gone wrong, as a farm boy surrounded by sickness and decay desperately wants to prove to his father that he can be a man. Sometimes being a man involves making some hard choices, and sometimes they’ll be bad choices as well. Reunion is an insightful story of childhood regrets and how the mistakes we make can haunt us well into adulthood, altering the courses we travel and where we ultimately end up. Before the Boogeymen Come was the most surprising inclusion in this collection. Triana entertains readers as he breathes life into the monsters who plague the imaginations of young children before media and experience provide new monsters to replace the old. The Bone Orchard is a heartbreaking western tale that could be read, depending on the reader’s perspective, as being either pro-life or pro-choice in its message. An old shootist returns to an old haunt and old love, only to discover there’s a sinister secret behind keeping the brothel running smoothly. Soon There’ll Be Leaves is a character study framed by multiple horrors, the most potent of which being reflection on a life not well-lived and the looming loss of family. Returning to a place he’d sooner never see again, our protagonist is approached by an old flame who proves the adage that one can never go home again, as an attempted affair takes an unforeseen twist. Video Express is a nostalgic exploration of the video rental stores of our youth and condemnation of how we quickly turned our back on the family-run establishments in favor of places where we could easily snag the newest titles. Giving from the Bottom is another character study, this time focused on the horrors of everyday life and the gradual erosion of both one’s ability to care and one’s will to live when nothing seems to turn out as expected. The collection ends with the strangely epic Legends, a vision of an afterlife that is not at all what one might expect. In Triana’s captivating narrative, we discover that the dead–if they’re famous or infamous enough–become eidolons of a sort. Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin come together as paragons of what generations of moviegoers and fans imagined them to be, and as such, they are bestowed with purpose and power to protect the world from infernal entities who may have similarly familiar faces. For me, Legends was the best of the whole collection, providing a glimpse into a world I could see the author fleshing out into a much longer piece. The narrations provided by Dani George, John Wayne Comunale, and Kristopher Triana himself were the best of the bunch. Triana especially did an excellent job of providing his characters with distinctive voices, and in the case of Before the Boogeymen Come a level of caricature that was enjoyable. The additional narrators, Michael Zapcic, Thomas Mumme, Jennifer Mumme, and Kevin McGuire were satisfying as well, just not as memorable as those provided by the three previously mentioned.
Ricardo “Blackie” Sanchez is the best MLDBB has to offer. The five-time Home Run Derby champion knows he has nothing to fear from his rivals as he steps up to bat for championship number six, as long as he can keep focusing on the ball…or on the ball being a ball. Unless you live under a rock, chances are you’re familiar with MLB (Major League Baseball), even if–like me–you have neither the patience nor even passing interest in the sport. If I broke down what MLDBB stands for, it would ruin the whole surprise you have in store for you. Wondering where Thomas R. Clark came up with this whole concept has led me to only one conclusion; this is the result of the punchline of a specific subset of offensive jokes being nurtured and allowed to grow into something awful and perversely hilarious. There’s something very wrong with our friend Thomas, and I suspect maybe someone needs to take him out to the ball game, buy him some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and supply him with a rain poncho like he’s in the front row of a Gallagher performance or an old school GWAR concert. Of all the ways one might think of to celebrate America’s Past Time, this is not within the first dozen or so things I’d have imagined. We just have to be grateful that Mr. Clark went there on our behalf, to liven(?) up the most tedious sport known to man.
This story was released as an exclusive title at http://www.godless.com and you can obtain it for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your preferred mobile device. The link is below:
Retail is a thankless job, but working retail on Black Friday would be an absolute nightmare. For Doug, it’s not so bad. He knows it’s a job he wouldn’t want to make a career out of, but it pays the bills, and he gets to work with his girlfriend, Jenna. As challenging as he expects the day to be, Doug never anticipates just how bad it can get. Black Friday is rough, but when it might just be the end of the world, things are about to get worse. In the tradition of George A. Romero, Todd Keisling provides us with a funhouse mirror distortion of the American obsession with consumerism. Providing commentary on the mindless or single-minded hunger that grips wide swaths of the population on the biggest shopping day of the year, Keisling forces us to wonder how much difference there is between one shambling horde and another. Even in a genre run into the ground, Keisling manages to create something fresh and entertaining with well-developed characters, fantastic writing, and plenty of wit added into the mix.
Black Friday was released on Halloween of 2021 as part of the 31 Days of Godless event. You can pick it up for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the app on your mobile device. The link follows:
Aurelio Rico Lopez III has provided readers with a robust assortment of free-verse narrative poems. There are literally dozens of stories and set pieces conveyed through poetry in this collection, and it’s well worth the time spent properly digesting each and every one. A Predisposition for Madness has certainly put this writer on my radar in a good way. In these pages, you’ll discover monsters both human and far from it, you’ll witness new pandemics and sickness ravaging households and the world, you’ll see warfare and apocalyptic scenarios played out, and you’ll encounter things far more challenging to describe. There’s most certainly something in here that will suit the tastes of any reader, assuming that reader enjoys poetry. Even if you don’t typically enjoy it, I’d recommend giving this collection a chance. The title is an apt one, the cadence of the poems coming across almost as if the stream of consciousness ravings of a madman in a padded cell, alternating between mumbles and screams.
This title was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. You can read it for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app on your preferred mobile device. The link is below:
Gateway is vastly different from a lot of what one might expect from Kristopher Triana. The reader isn’t going to find the sort of vividly depicted gore and violence one frequently associates with Triana’s material. I have to say they’ll be missing out if they don’t dive into this story because they’re disappointed about the lack of brightly splashing gore and viscera in these few pages. Franco Torres is a human trafficker who specializes in albinos, whether for sex trafficking or harvesting purposes. He’s a monster preying on superstitions and prejudice to accumulate wealth, and he’s exceptionally successful at it. When a stunning, ethereal albino woman arrives at a party he’s attending, Torres can’t help but introduce himself to The Gateway. Will his deepest wishes and dreams come true at the hands of this mysterious woman? What will be the cost? I will be eagerly anticipating the upcoming novel, The Ivory Dealer, that emerged from this short story. Triana successfully baited the hook with this one, leaving the reader with questions that desperately need answering.
This title is available as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. You can snag this one for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app to your mobile device. The link is below: