Dissonant Harmonies Book Review

Dissonant Harmonies Book Review

Dissonant Harmonies Book Review:  For Dissonant Harmonies, Bev Vincent and Brian Keene come together for a unique concept on their novella published by Cemetery Dance. It is, in fact, two novellas – one written by each author to a playlist selected by the other.

Both authors having discovered that they enjoy writing to music, the idea was born that they would choose a playlist for the author to write to.

The rules were that they could only write each perspective story while listening to the playlist chosen for them by the other author.

Dissonant Harmonies Cool title, but what does it mean?

Consonant harmonies are a combination of pitches in a chord which are agreeable or easy to listen to and make pleasing sounds. Dissonant harmonies are a combination of pitches in a chord which are relatively harsh and grating. These are often difficult sounds to listen to, and so the ear will seek out the resolution in the chords that follow. [Discovering music through listening – OpenLearn – Open University]

For those of us not well versed in music, I found a YouTube video that explained the effect. I wish I had looked this up before reading the book, since the effect is certainly unsettling, and definitely worthy of being featured in some creeptacular horror film.

Bev Vincent’s novella, chosen for him by Brain Keene, is titled The Dead of Winter, and the playlist for it includes a wide array of artists such as Ice-T, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Queen, Moby, Johnny Cash, and Alice in Chains.

Is there a better sound track for a horror novel called The Dead of Winter than When it’s Cold I’d like to Die by Moby?

The Dead of Winter takes place in Bayport, Rhode Island during (you guessed it) the dead of winter. The tale follows two estranged brothers that come together when Frank, a newly made police officer, hears of some troubling disappearances occurring in his hometown – and flies up from Texas to look into it further. His brother, Joey, finds himself helping in Frank’s unauthorized investigation, as the small town is pummeled by a particularly brutal winter storm.

When the two brothers discover tunnels dispersed throughout the town in the homes of the victims that only Joey can see, their search for answers continues in earnest – aided by the town sheriff. It seems something supernatural and evil is brewing, and Joey could be its next victim.

Brian Keene’s novella, The Motel at the End of the World, features a playlist chosen for him by Bev Vincent. Featuring some classic 70s and 80s such as Supertramp, Goldfrapp, The Alan Parson’s Project, Elton John, The Electric Light Orchestra, and Pink Floyd – to name a few, there are definitely a lot of angry male vibes in this soundtrack which pair well with the narrator.

The Motel at the End of the World is a monologue that tackles the phenomenon known as “The Mandela Effect.”

The narrator makes several compelling arguments that will have the reader Googling each case in point. Starting with The Berenstain Bears (not The Berenstein Bears…. apparently) and moving on to name other commonly misremembered quotes and events whether from The Bible, or Star Wars, or even Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

The result of all of these very valid examples of The Mandela Effect is certain to leave the reader feeling extremely unsettled, and questioning everything they ever knew. Just when Keene has you questioning your own sanity, this novella takes a diabolical turn. What if The Mandela Effect is actually the result of something much larger at play?

What if it’s the result of some sort of alternate reality? Like in an apocalyptic scenario taking place in a motel room with the reader left in the dark; this is a terrifying tale that is certain to stick with you long after reading.

Both novellas are equally compelling and terrifying, The Dead of Winter delivers an excellent small town supernatural horror yarn, while The Hotel at the End of the World has a significant Black Mirror feel to it and is a fantastically bite-sized supernatural thriller. These novellas gets 5 stars from this author, and this book is definitely one that I will be picking up for a re-read!

If you would enjoy hearing more about the musical aspect of this novella, head on over to An Empty Bliss Magazine, to hear our thoughts on the playlist for Dissonant Harmonies.

Dissonant Harmonies, cemetery dance, bev vincent, briane keene

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!) – Get it on CemeteryDance.com Here.


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“Dissonant Harmonies Book Review” was written by Lisa Lebel.

 

 

Barbara Comyns’ Who has Changed and Who has Died (1954)

Barbara Comyns’ Who has Changed and Who has Died (1954)

Barbara Comyns’ Who has Changed and Who has Died (1954) – Misery and Malice in a Small Village – The Willoweed family life is defined by misery made worse under the scrupulous eye of an embittered matriarch, Grandma Willoweed.

The cranky and controlling woman holds power over the family through an inheritance that they are dependent upon. Her son, Ebin, takes her abuse in order to keep a home while unemployed but often passes off his own insecurities onto his three children, Emma, Hattie, and Phillip, through insults and abusive behavior.

Consequently, when tragedy befalls the small town in the way of madness induced through sickness, the Willoweed’s become drawn to the situations for their own morbid and selfish reasons–both as a means to celebrate others’ downfalls and to escape their own misery.

Billed as a ‘tragicomedy’, “Who has Changed and Who has Died” is a deceptively bleak novel that hides under a thin veneer of dark humor.

Barbara Comyns, Who has Changed and Who has Died

In fact, those unfamiliar with prose or media that relies heavily on uncomfortable and amoral characters to push comedic elements will likely find the work entirely off-putting.

At the same time, the playfully crass nature of the work does not lie in shock value as death is never graphically conveyed, and instances of abuse spare morbid details. Instead, repulsion from the audience will come in the form of a moral repulsion from her character’s inner dialogue that is largely harsh, uncaring, and vindictive.

A prime example of amorality on display is Ebin’s observation of the passing of a woman in town instantly invoking a sense of disgust at how her sex appeal has declined in the throes of death over empathy for her suffering. This is just one of many observations that will make the readers feel repulsed by the family unit, particularly Ebin and Grandmother Willoweed.

Comparatively, the children of the family do maintain their innocence to a degree but even their broken-down spirit under the cruel matriarch transforms them into meek and awkward personalities to the point that their sorrows become rather mundane.

The work can be compared to a lot of ‘dark comedic’ literature from Europe that loves to focus on tragic characters, yet the book lacks any social commentary that gives it that edge that allows the work to at least be reflective of some societal woe.

The family lives and dwells in misery and carries few redeemable qualities, a fact that only compounds as the town delve into madness and people start dying.

Undeniably, Barbara Comyns is a deeply talented writer of demented prose, and the world she creates is really easy to get absorbed in despite the morbid, bleak nature of it all.

Where the book does carry redemptive qualities through the author’s ability to create characters that are deeply fascinating to explore, flaws and all.

Ebin Willoweed, who is perhaps the worst of the bunch, born of privilege has become petty, embittered, jealous, and often takes it out on his kids through weird mental games. Notably, his abuse of Phillip in beatings and abandoning him in odd places in a way to push him to be more masculine is an obvious pathetic compensation for his own emasculation at the hands of his mother. Despite Ebin being so despicable, Comyns still manages to make him an intriguing car wreck by meticulously defining his fallacies through both his own perspective and that of others in the family.

Make no mistake, as miserable as the book can be it is still a captivating read and worthy of exploration if you are one of those readers that find themselves mysteriously drawn to tragic and deplorable characters.

Furthermore, the light flairs of comedic prose through peculiar observations on how the family appears both to others and how they interpret the world is conveyed with a sharp intellectual wit.

There is an audience for this book, but it is one that you need to be willing to seek and be comfortable with.

Personally, “Who has Changed and Who has Died” did appeal to my own sense of dark humor and there were points in the book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

At the same time, the pain of those in the book seemed rather… meaningless.

Ultimately, this is what really pushed me away from the overall experience, at the same time I am really excited to check out more from Comyns because of the aspects that worked I adored, and am hopeful her other work will capture more of that magic out from underneath the morbid lense.

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: Nay (or read it anyway, if you dare)


“Who has Changed and Who has Died” is available through The Dorothy Project.

 

“Barbara Comyns’ Who has Changed and Who has Died (1954)” was written by Adam Symchuk.

 

 

Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering

Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering

Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering; told through an experimental narrative, a young mother on the verge of death is visited by the voice of a young boy asking to scan her memories, to find when the ‘worms’ first appeared.

Spoiler Warning* For The Fever Dream Book Review

This leads the woman, Amanda, to recount the last few days at a vacation home, her run-in with another mother with a dark story, and the reflections on her own role as a mother of the young Nina.

All the while, the reader is slipping in and out of the story between conversations with the young boy. Fever Dream is a surreal and deeply disturbing tale of sickness and the trials of motherhood.

The most terrifying thing in Samantha Schweblin’s debut novel is the complete breakdown of a mother’s ability to protect her child as she slowly begins to lose control of her body.

The novel speaks often of this concept of an invisible tether that binds the mother to her child to always keep a safe distance in case anything happens. The way that Schweblin explains the way Amanda keeps this in mind, releasing it or drawing it tighter depending on the scenario gives a constant sense of pervasive unease as she longs to draw her child close but lacks the ability.

As someone who has not experienced motherhood, it is an effective way to convey the invisible bond that you experience with your own family or friends who have kids.

Fever Dream cuts to the most intense fear any parent can have, not just losing one’s own kid but losing the ability to protect the one you cherish most.

Adding to the sense of dread is a story steeped in obscure folklore, soul transference, and an idea of an incompatible disease defining a small town controlling the way it runs. There are certain scenes introduced that show the area that Amanda chose to stumble on has built their town around acceptance of the death of mind and body due to some disease that afflicts their children.

The way the prose tackles the story, flowing in and out, allows quick glances into key moments in Amanda’s nightmare.

For a short novel, Samanta Schweblin manages to convey suffering on a large scale, both personal and cultural suffering.

The land is poisoned to its core and Amanda gets involved in an inescapable nightmare of a lifetime of others feeding into superstition.

Fever Dream is published in English through Riverhead Books.

 

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering” was written by Adam Symchuk.

 

 

Dancing with the Tombstones is a delicious anthology of short stories

Dancing with the Tombstones is a delicious anthology of short stories

Dancing with the Tombstones is a delicious anthology of short stories, and I had the opportunity to review the latest book written by Mark Aronovitz and published by Cemetery Dance compiled during the COVID-19 lockdown of short stories that could be easily described as the adult equivalent of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark.

The following book review of Dancing with the Tombstones from Cemetery Dance is Spoiler-free**

This novel features seventeen short stories, with publication dates that vary from 2009-2020. Ten of these short stories have been published previously in various other anthologies, but it features seven new terrifying tales.

Mark Aronovitz tells us in the afterword that he put this book together in response to the pandemic, during the lonely days of quarantine.

His hope to bring some comfort and distraction during this trying time was a huge success and could have easily been titled Chicken Soup for the Spooky Soul.

Straight up – no nonsense horror.

Aronovitz delivers exactly what he promises, and this was a delightfully terrifying read, his short stories requiring no lengthy plot or conception of reality, just straight up – no nonsense horror.

This anthology is certainly one worth adding to your library, with tales that would be ideal to tell around a campfire on a chilly night and each packs a hefty punch that is genuinely terrifying when the blow strikes home.

Dancing with the Tombstones is split into four sections titled “GIRLS,” PSYCHOS,” “TOOLS & TECH,” and “MARTYRS & SACRIFICIAL LAMBS,” with each of his short stories falling into one of these categories.

Each short story is bite-sized and perfect to pick up and return to again over and over, and the fantastical element of short horror makes for a refreshing read. The short length allows these tales to grow more and more gruesome and disturbing. And every tale holds a more disturbing thought that is expanded upon to a truly terrifying conclusion.

My personal favorite in this anthology was “Puddles,” where Dora Watawitz’s obsessive cleaning routine turns into a waking nightmare when she starts to hallucinate the filth entering her home.

Mark Aronovitz delivers some truly real and a relatable material and to light brings disturbing thoughts such as “When DID I ever clean the toilet brush?” or, “How often do I ever really clean the bottom of my feet?”

These unsettling notions escalate into insanity (or perhaps a supernatural version of Doris’s personal hell) and all the cleaning, scrubbing, and bleaching just can never remove the filth plastered all over the walls of her mind.

Indeed, in a book where hell is described as an eternity consigned to an old Nissan Sentra in “The Echo,” there is something for everyone in this book.

Mark Aronovitz’s writing quality is stellar, and this is certainly a book to be enjoyed again and again.

Mark Aronovitz is the author of the novels Alice Walks, The Sculptor, The Witch of the Wood, and Phantom Effect. He has published two other collections, Seven Deadly Pleasures, and The Voice in Our Heads. He has published over fifty short stories in total and is definitely an author worth following!

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“Dancing with the Tombstones is a delicious anthology of short stories” was written by Lisa Lebel.

 

 

 

361 By Donald E. Westlake: Unique, Hard-Hitting Brilliance

361 By Donald E. Westlake: Unique, Hard-Hitting Brilliance

361 By Donald E. Westlake: unique, hard-hitting brilliance brings hard-boiled gritty noir down an alley that you cannot leave until the book is done.

Hard Case Crime thankfully brings many treasures like 361 back to the forefront of fiction on today’s market.

Personally, despite loving crime, mystery, and hard-boiled fiction, I had yet to read a novel of Donald Westlake’s.

And here is the beauty of HCC’s paperback series: it is very easy for a good friend in the know to mail me a book that will kick my ass, and get me into gear, just like 361 did.

If you love Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collin’s Quarry series (to name one), then this 1962 publication will be very appealing and not the least because it is a style all Westlake’s own.

Warning, Will Robinson! This book review of 361 by Donald E. Westlake has Spoilers* for the opening pages.

Ray Kelly has landed in New York retired from his time abroad as a US military man. He feels bad at talking to his brother’s wife, who he has not met, on the phone to get directions. He cares about family.

When Ray’s father, Willard, picks him up and talks about how his brother settled down happily and then remarks how good his Ray looks after all those years, father and son break down crying.

Dad brags about the air conditioning in the car and remarks, “chased a lot of ambulances lately,” as he was an attorney with a good sense of humor.

Westlake has brought a happy family together and the pair drive over New York City’s George Washington Bridge in what has been an uplifting tale so far.

In 361, Westlake pulls one of the fastest literally punches to ever gut the main character and the reader.

Donald E. Westlake, 361, hard case crime, hard-boiled, noir, crime fiction, mystery, book review, 361 By Donald E. Westlake

And then a Chrysler pulls up beside them and fires a gun, so that Willard appears to vomit blood and falls over into Ray’s lap as the car hits the bridge barrier.

A month later, Ray wakes in a hospital minus an eye and his one leg shattered and put back together in a way that would leave him with a debilitating limp.

End of Spoiler Warning*

Westlake pulled the rug out from under me so quickly I nearly dropped the book.

Readers beware of Donald E. Westlake, whose use of realistic dialogue, rich character feeling, and sharp descriptions make up boisterously boiled worlds that are increasingly intriguing as the tale winds on.

The plot gets harrier and harrier as it goes on too.

There are some mysteries and some surprises.

And 361’s ending is wholly original, utterly pragmatic, and very satisfying.

 

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“361 By Donald E. Westlake: Unique, Hard-Hitting Brilliance” was written by R.J. Huneke.

 

 

 

Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole (2017) – Trapped in Ones Mind

Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole (2017) – Trapped in Ones Mind

After a car crash, Ogi awakens to find himself barely alive, caught in a vegetative state unable to communicate or move. After learning from the doctors that his wife did not survive the crash his sole surviving family member, his mother-in-law, begins to take care of his every need. However, when she discovers her daughter’s notes that point to past transgressions of Ogi. The mother-in-law begins odd obsessive behavior which aims to push Ogi to the brink of insanity — left to slowly rot with minimal care.

Being judged for one’s own actions can be a horrifying experience in itself, let alone adding in the nightmare of being trapped in a broken body unable to defend oneself against the onslaught. Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a horror/thriller existing in this realm of perverse uncomfortableness, having a caregiver slowly transform into a menacing force with full control over the life of another.

The book has been compared to books like Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Stephen King’s Misery.

And one can push even so far as to say it challenged the depressing body horror of titles like Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.

While the book does capitalize on the unease and horrors that come with captivity, both in one’s own body and by an exterior force, The Hole is unlikely to reach the same level of accolades heaped upon the previously mentioned titles. However, that does not mean the book is without merit or that it pales in comparison of a familiar formula.

*Slight spoilers ahead

Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole, undeniably, excels at capturing the waking nightmare of slow, meticulous abuse at the hands of another. Ogi’s internal struggles, a mix of reflecting on the past and trying to rationalize the current scenario he is in, paints a really tragic portrait. This is also heightened by the character’s humanity, as a man who is aware of the mistakes he made and is still trying to do well. As his mother-in-law learns of his marital problems the reader is aware of the narrative, as she understands it, is very one-sided.

Furthermore, Ogi is aware that his actions were wrong but also that his wife was not without blame. This is approached in a very mature practical manner, as Ogi explores the harsh reality that sometimes people just drift apart. Notably, the image he had of his wife when they first fell in love faded as they changed, him finding her dull and uninspiring is not so much born out of cruelty but two people drifting apart. Ultimately, The highlight of the novel has to be Hye-Young Pyun’s exploration of  Ogi as a character through internal dialogue, painting the portrait of a man who does not deserve punishment, yet can also be seen as deserved from a third party.

However, where The Hole begins to slightly falter is in the development of other characters and dialogue, the change from self-reflection to being present in the room with others never holds the same profundity of Ogi stuck in dark ruminations. The mother-in-law, though intimidating feels more like the embodiment of justice over being a character unto herself.

There are also moments of narrative convenience, and even the set-up of the mother-in-law finding the notes of her daughter seems a bit contrived, in the sense she meticulously collected and recorded any argument, action, or negative word that she felt reflected her husband poorly. His status among peers and not having any family of his own also feels shoehorned in to capture that sense of isolation in an immediate fashion. It does make the situation grave and more tragic, yet Ogi can feel very one-dimensional at points due to the ambiguity of the situation and his lack of personal life beyond his wife.

*Spoilers end

Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a deeply engaging read, that will draw fans of thrillers in with its frightening scenario and dread-inducing prose in exploring internal dialogue. It does feel a bit rough around the edges and some of the scenarios feel contrived and underdeveloped, but the overall experience is one of extreme discomfort that is certain to make the right reader squirm in all the right ways.

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole (2017) – Trapped in Ones Mind” was written by Adam Symchuk.