January 2024 book blog

January and the first half of February were about writing more than reading, and I’m very happy to announce that I sent book 3 to the copy editor today. Hearts’ Home will be self published, just as the two previous books in the Ransomed Hearts series were. Of course, writers gotta read, and I pretty much spent January reading ‘Screams from the Dark’ a monster 470 page trade paperback sized anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. Appropriately enough, the theme is ‘Monsters’.
There are 29 stories in this book, and as with most multi-author collections, some hit the spot and others didn’t quite do it. The stories, and the collection as a whole, doesn’t shy away from the idea that humans can be the worst monsters of all. Because I don’t have any other books to talk about this month, I’ll go into some detail here. Beware spoilers.
Ian Rogers’ ‘You Have What I Need’ is a cool little vampire story set in a busy hospital. Fran Wilde’s ‘The Midway’ harks back to the Golden Age of SF and horror, evoking both Bradbury and Lovecraft with a touch of Free Willy.
I’ve learned to watch out for Gemma Files stories, they’ll eat into your head and seed your nightmares. ‘Wet Red Grin’ has a title that made me think immediately of Barker’s ‘Rawhead Rex’, and whilst the plot doesn’t echo that classic horror story, the vibe certainly does. Probably one of my favourites of the book.
Daryl Gregory’s ‘The Virgin Jimmy Peck’ grabs the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ trope and sends it through the Buffyverse to a tragicomic and unnerving conclusion.
Priya Sharma’s ‘The Ghost of a Flea’ was a bit above my head. I’ve heard of William Blake, but until now the only John Varley I’d heard of was the USian SF writer. I’m afraid this story fell somewhat flat for me, although it was well written and plotted, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Brian Hodge’s ‘The Atrocity Exhibitionists’ catches the zeitgeist. It’s one of those stories that will doubtless age poorly, but is enormous fun today. The monster is us, and our unrelenting social media demands on celebrities. The monsters are the celebrities who feed on clicks and adulation and will do anything to protect their fame. It’s not subtle, but it’s fun.
Joyce Carol Oates is a welcome contributor to any anthology, and with ‘The Father of Modern Gynecology’ she brings to our attention a true monster of his time.
Continuing the theme of monstrous males, Indrapramit Das’s ‘Here Comes Your Man’ is a tale of predatory men and a young couple from the city.
Siobhan Carroll’s ‘Siolaigh’ makes a welcome and enjoyable contribution to the sea monster / folk horror / sacrifice genre.
‘What is Love But The Quiet Moments After Dinner’ is a tasty little treat from the very reliable Richard Kadrey. Sometimes, you meet your soul mate, and when that happens, the results can be messy.
Norman Partridge’s ‘The Island’ is a mythic vampire tale that takes a while to get over.
Garry Kilworth took the theme pretty literally with ‘Flaming Teeth’. It’s a story about an ogre, and some people who got really, really out of their depth. I loved it.
Caitlin R Kiernan’s ‘Strandling’ is about love and death and the end of the world. It’s a beautiful story.
‘The Special One’ served as my introduction to Chikodili Emelumadu. I very much enjoyed this creepy little story of self delusion.
Glen Hirshberg’s ‘Devil’ wouldn’t find itself out of place in a horror anthology from the last few decades, it has a remote location, innocent tourists, a ghost story and a monster. This is another of my favourites.
A C Wise absolutely creeped me out with ‘Crick Crack Rattle Tap.’
Stephen Graham Jones takes on an urban legend in ‘Children of the Night’ and turns it into one of the most entertaining vampire stories I’ve read in ages.
Kaaron Warren’s ‘The Smell of Waiting’ is an inventive, creepy tale that draws you in, but didn’t quite pay off for me. Am I allowed to be sad about an unhappy ending in a horror story?
Livia Llewellyn’s ‘Now Voyager’ was my only DNF in the collection. It didn’t grab me, but bear in mind that I was reading all these stories right before bedtime, and I may have loved it if I’d come to it with more energy.
Carole Johnstone’s ‘The Last Drop’ is another story based on historical facts. Mary Timney was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Scotland. This story explores the monstrousness to be found in all of us.
Nathan Ballingrud’s ‘Three Mothers Mountain’ reads as a fairy tale, and leaves behind a haunting feeling of wanting to return to the world he’s created in this story. This is probably the only story in the collection that has left me wanting to know more.
Margo Lanagan’s ‘Widow-Light’ is another of my favourites. Every year, a girl or a young woman is chosen to be sacrificed to the monster on the hill. One year, the villagers pick the wrong victim, and things suddenly change.
Joe R Lansdale’s ‘Sweet Potato’ is a luscious little story that I very much enjoyed.
Brian Evenson’s ‘Knock Knock’ is a scary story about a monster that just wouldn’t stay dead. Rules are rules, until they’re not.
Cassandra Khaw’s ‘What is Meat with no God’ is fantasy horror. The undying soldier, animated by magic, is a fearful creature, but what would it be like to be that soldier?
A new Laird Barron story is a treasure, and ‘Bitten by Himself’ does not disappoint. Some men are just born to be monsters.
The mother / daughter / sister relationship is fertile ground for horror, and Kristi DeMeester digs deep in ‘Burial.’
I found myself thinking about Jeffrey Ford’s ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ several times in the weeks after I read it. Again, it has echoes of Rawhead Rex, which the universe is clearly telling me to re-read. We have a secret government experiment, an isolated community, and a dreamlike telling of the chaos that ensues.
John Langan’s ‘Blodsuger’ is one of the longest stories in the collection, and brings the book to a close. I do enjoy a story of European monsters transplanted to the US. This would make a great film.

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