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The Garden of Blue RosesThe Garden of Blue Roses by Michael Barsa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I suspect that many fans of the modern Gothic would give this one at least four stars. It has pretty much everything one expects, with a few extras. Creepy family in privileged country-house life? Check. Mysterious death of parents? Check. Dark family secrets several layers deep? Check. Seriously unreliable narrator? Double, triple check.

Unfortunately, the famous horror-writer father who haunts (figuratively? literally?) so much of this story just did not work for me as a character. Most jarringly, this writer made his name as "the Master of the Slasher who writes in rhyming couplets." There are numerous quotations from his work throughout the book, and almost all of them felt forced. This poetry simply did not strike me as being something that would sell horror novels -- though, again, YMMV. Like much else about this character, these quotations seemed over the top.

That said, there's a lot to admire about this novel. In addition to the skillfully wrought Gothic atmosphere, the plot plays with reality vs. fiction in a completely disorienting way. Despite the intrusion of those couplets, suspense builds steadily, even when the reader is fairly sure whodunit -- if not why -- early on. This is a thoroughly stylized tale, but an absorbing one for those who are willing to let it unfold at its own pace.

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I'm a happy weirdie!

Weird Fiction Review #9 (listed as Fall 2018, but appearing in early 2019) and Spectral Realms #10 (Winter 2019), both edited by S.T. Joshi, are now available.

And I've got new poems in both of them.

Weird Fiction Review #9 -- a truly massive (over 400 pp.!) annual compilation of fiction, poetry, articles, & reviews -- is available from Colorado publisher Centipede Press. Find more information & a sale price here:

Spectral Realms #10, THE twice-yearly journal of weird verse & reviews, is available from Hippocampus Press. This issue offers a full index to issues #1-10. Find ToC & ordering information here:
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strict liquid diet
organic and gluten-free
the undead live well

-- Ann K. Schwader
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A Night in the Lonesome OctoberA Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This dark & frothy bit of holiday entertainment really stands up to rereading.

Broken into 31 dated chapters, this outwardly straightforward tale of a ritual to be performed (or stopped) under a rare full Halloween moon is anything but. Zelazny gives the reader a dazzling cast of characters from literary horror and horrific history, adds a generous dose of Lovecraft, and turns up the paranoia every chapter.

There are so many in-jokes and literary references, it's a bit hard to keep up. However, Zelazny never fails to keep his primary characters sympathetic (which is a trick, since one of them is the Ripper!) and worth worrying about. Then there's Snuff, our narrator with a dog's-eye view of it all. . . .

Highly recommended for dark fantasy or horror fans open to being amused & spooked at the same time. Lovecraftians are likely to have a slightly better experience, or at least to get more of the jokes.

View all my reviews
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My most recent Cassie Barrett tale, "Pothunters," just received an Honorable Mention in Vol. 10 of Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year!

"Pothunters" first appeared in Black Wings VI (PS Publishing, 2017) , edited by S.T. Joshi.

And I'm scaring my poor Corgi with my home office happy dance.
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To celebrate, here's something from my last collection, Dark Energies (P'rea Press 2015).

Of One Who Dreamed

The old gods wake! From pole to pole, that cry
Disquiets midnight in a thousand tongues
Both common & unknown to prophesy
Some cataclysm. Since this world was young,
Its gods have come & gone; their praises sung
In temples or in battle, their rites kept
With incense or with sacrifice fresh-wrung
From writhing flesh. Yet elder powers slept
Beneath our seas. Beyond our stars. Adept
At camouflage, they shaped the waking dreams
Of one whose bleak imagination leapt
To correlate its contents -- into reams
Of warning left behind for all who sense
The stirrings of a darker Providence.

--Ann K. Schwader
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The Good HouseThe Good House by Tananarive Due

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent modern Gothic horror novel -- feels like Southern Gothic even though most of it takes place in the Northwest --with some really fascinating Vodou aspects. The story is female-focused with a sympathetic protagonist who refuses to be a victim. All good! This is the first Due novel I've ever read / listened to, and I was hoping to broaden my horror reading experience.

In some ways, the novel did this. Unfortunately, it felt much too long, even given that it was a generational story. Combine this with a nonlinear storytelling style (the entire plot zigzags back and forth, sometimes by decades at a time) and an unsatisfying ending, and you wind up with a book that's rather hard to get through.

I think I may have stuck with it because the Audible narrator was doing an excellent job. I'm not sure I would have been so persistent if I'd had, say, a paperback.

YMMV, especially if you're really looking for a chewy late-summer chiller.

View all my reviews
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I'm a little late in posting about this, but still very happy to announce that Spectral Realms #8 (Winter 2018) is now available from Hippocampus Press.

This twice-yearly trade paperback journal of weird verse (edited by S.T. Joshi) continues to offer a comprehensive look at the latest renaissance of this sub-genre. This time around, it's over 130 pages: new work, classic reprints (only two), one article, and two reviews of recent collections.

Contributors include most of the Usual Suspects, both veterans and newcomers. One of the former is Yours Truly, with "Volunteers" (blank verse sonnet).

For the complete TOC, or to order with FREE shipping:
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Another January, another resounding thump as the latest issue of Weird Fiction Review from Centipede Press lands in my mailbox! This is issue #8, & possibly the largest ever at a whopping 391 pages.

Edited (as usual) by independent Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi, #8 is an homage to classic Weird Tales. Eleven tales, thirteen essays and interviews, and nine poems are included -- including one by Yours Truly. I'm particularly excited about Wade German's "Gorgonum Chaos," five pages of well-crafted narrative blank verse.

The production values of this sewn trade paperback annual are first-rate, and include several sections in color plus a full-color cover. All in all, an excellent choice for the long winter evenings still ahead -- and I'm proud to be a part of it.

For full details, or to order:
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I Wish I Was Like YouI Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is either a very literary ghost story or an intermittently haunted literary novel, though for me it worked best when the supernatural element was present. Either way, it's a remarkably strange and well-crafted read for those looking to expand their horizons past the normal range of horror.

I did find that the pace slackened a bit in the middle of the book, and that the supernatural nature of the plot wasn't explained until later in the novel than this reader would have liked. (Of course, This Reader is fonder of dark fiction than of mainstream literary novels . .. ) However, the slow-burning sense of dread kept me clicking pages, and the end payoff was well worth it.

View all my reviews
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HWA Poetry Showcase Volume IVHWA Poetry Showcase Volume IV by David E. Cowen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I have a poem in this collection. Furthermore, it's one of the "special mention" poems the jurors chose to recognize this year. Please consider this review as more of a buyers' guide.]

This year's HWA Poetry Showcase celebrates the poetic side of the Dark Art of horror writing, as practiced by the HWA membership. It functions as both a contest and a showcase -- there are 3 Featured Poems (winners) and 3 Special Mention poems ( runners-up). The Kindle edition is fully indexed, and all the poems appear to have survived the conversion from print -- at least, so far as I could tell by comparing to a PDF copy. This in itself is notable!

The poems themselves are very diverse -- mainly free verse, but with a fair number of formal works as well. Most of the poems here are narrative. Subject matter and tone vary widely, though there was quite a bit of graveyard/ body horror. Almost all the works here would be very accessible to readers of prose horror.

An optimistic "Note from the Editor" -- David E. Cowen -- celebrates and comments upon the survival of dark poetry and other speculative verse, even in a time when mainstream poetry seems to be struggling in America.

View all my reviews
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Just in time for H.P. Lovecraft's birthday (August 20th), Spectral Realms #7 is now available from Hippocampus Press . Edited by S.T. Joshi, this latest issue of the twice-yearly journal of weird verse offers over 120 pages of poems and related articles from old hands and newer practitioners.

Contributing poets include Richard L. Tierney, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, John Shirley, Ashley Dioses, K.A. Opperman, David Barker, F.J. Bergman, and Yours Truly -- among others. (Full disclosure: I have three poems in this issue, all previously unpublished.)

Spectral Realms is published in attractive trade paperback format, with a classic Gustave Doré cover this time around.
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Agents of DreamlandAgents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most elegant bits of Lovecraftian writing I've read in some time. Kiernan delivers a genuinely chilling riff on "The Whisperer in Darkness" with a touch of the X-Files (or a close approximation) and a dose of botany, all set in the farthest reaches of the Southwest. A mysterious agent known as the Signalman is investigating the aftermath of a cult gone wrong, but is he already too late? And for whom is he too late?

There's quite a bit of time-shifting and viewpoint-shifting here, and not all loose ends are neatly tied up by the novella's bleak conclusion. For me, at least, the prose style (verging on prose poetry) more than made up for a little uncertainty. The plot may be slightly predictable in an apocalyptic way, but the beauty of the writing carries it.

One caution: this one is definitely for those familiar with Lovecraft. It might or might not work as well for horror/dark fantasy fans coming in cold. As with much of this kind of fiction (Charles Stross's Laundry series comes to mind), the more you know, the more entertaining it is.

View all my reviews
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The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A slow-burn classic of supernatural horror, with a side order of psychological suspense. This is pretty much the definitive Evil Children/possession tale, but James' writing style takes some settling into. The payoff is well worth it, however.

Probably best for those willing to enter into the Gothic game of shadows, suggestions, and ambiguities. If mysteriously troubled country houses and imperiled governesses don't enhance your horror experience, this might be one to avoid. If they do, though, this one's your catnip.

View all my reviews
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I'm still catching up with contributors' copies, etc. from the end-of-year deluge, but wanted to mention that Colorado's own Centipede Press has recently released Weird Fiction Review #7.

This annual journal -- so big that my contrib arrived in a box of its own! -- is edited by S.T. Joshi, and offers over 350 pp. of fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, reviews, and artwork, all in a very handsome sewn paperback edition with color covers & much interior color.

The fiction this time around is by Steve Rasnic Tem, Mark Howard Jones, Jonathan Thomas, John Shirley & Don Webb, and Nicole Cushing. Poetry is by Christina Sng, Ian Futter, K.A. Opperman, John Shirley, Wade German, Ashley Dioses, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard -- & Yours Truly.

There are also articles by Charles A. Gramlich, Jason V. Brock, Chad Hensley, and others; a column by John Pelan, and more.

For more information, or to order at a discount, please check here.
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The ElementalsThe Elementals by Michael McDowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solidly crafted Southern Gothic take on the classic haunted house novel, with characters the reader actually comes to care about. (Which is unfortunate, given the body count!)

This one offers pretty much everything a reader might want in such a tale: a creepy Victorian summer home -- three, actually -- an increasingly menacing setting cut off from civilization, generations of family secrets, occult protections that don't work, and a memorably nasty ending with a twist. The writing is first-class, and most of the characters are very well drawn. McDowell knows how to make his descriptions visceral without being gratuitous, which is a real plus.

One caveat: this 1981 novel might feel slightly dated to some readers. Supernatural horror fans who appreciate a quieter, more literary approach won't be disappointed, though.

View all my reviews
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Issue #22 of Eye to the Telescope, the SFPA's online journal of speculative poetry, has gone live!

In keeping with the season, this is the "Ghosts" issue. Edited by Shannon Connor Winward, it offers 27 spectral poems ranging from Gothic horror to folktale to spooky SF. There's a range of forms as well, though this issue runs pretty heavily toward free verse.

And, yes, Yours Truly does have something here: the terza rima sonnet "New World Haunting."
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As I suspect most of the genre-reading world already knows, The Bram Stoker Awards® Final Ballot was announced yesterday, here.

Congratulations to everyone listed!

And if you scroll all the way down, you’ll see why Yours Truly has gone back into her Grateful Happy Dance.
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The latest issue of Spectral Realms, a weird poetry journal (plus articles & reviews on that topic) has been announced for sale at Hippocampus Press.

Edited by S.T. Joshi, this twice-yearly journal always offers a bumper crop of dark poetry & poets, but this time around it’s massive: 144 pages! Delivered in a nicely produced trade paperback format, it’s less a magazine than a permanent addition to any weird lit lover’s collection. Good for your dark-minded Valentine, too!

For the full TOC and ordering details, check here. The journal ships free within the USA, & free worldwide with any other qualifying purchase from the press.

[Truth in LiveJournaling: yes, I do have two poems in this issue. One is a very up-to-date bit of cosmic horror based on the discoveries of New Horizons.]
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The HWA’s 2015 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot is out now, here. Congratulations & best of luck to all!

Scroll down – way, way down – to see why Yours Truly is doing a very grateful Happy Dance.

(Sorry for this news being a bit late, but I spent the weekend picking teeth out of my office carpet. )

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