richardleis's reviews
461 reviews

My Heart Is a Chainsaw, by Stephen Graham Jones

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adventurous challenging dark emotional funny hopeful informative inspiring mysterious reflective sad tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

Fantastic! I couldn't put the book down for the last 150 breathtaking pages. I love the strong, erudite narrative voice and the resourceful, hilarious, and heartbreaking protagonist. Burst into tears a couple times and, oh my goodness, that last image and emotional beat is remarkable. The plot kept me guessing; I felt really engaged in the mystery and trying to figure everything out. The twists and reveals arrive as the body count accelerates in a set piece that has to be filmed someday! This is the first Stephen Graham Jones novel I have read and it won't be the last.
Stories We Tell After Midnight, Volume 3, by Marlaina Cockroft, Liam Hogan, Nicole Givens Kurtz, C. Patrick Neagle, Pedro Íñiguez, Jennifer Nestojko, Gordon Linzner, Thea Brune, Marta Palandri, Tim Jeffreys, Rachel A. Brune, James Edward O'Brien, Chrissie Rohrman, Jay Caselberg, Rebecca B. Weiss, David J. Thirteen, Bethany Browning, Randee Dawn, Miriam H. Harrison, Rachel Unger, Richard Leis, Jude Reid

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adventurous dark emotional funny hopeful inspiring mysterious sad tense fast-paced

5.0

One of my short stories is included in the third and final volume of Stories We Tell After Midnight from Crone Girls Press and editor Rachel A. Brune, but I'll review the book based on the other stories. 
 
I enjoy anthologies for their variety, and in this anthology, every story worked for me. Whether a story led me were I expected it would or it turned in an unexpected direction, I was struck by all the writers’ storytelling confidence and care with craft. I want to highlight just of a few of my favorites below, but know that every story is a winner, in my opinion. 
 
“Red in Stile and Rail” by Rachel Unger launches the book in a terrific, terrifying way that left me suspicious of all doors and entryways. 
 
“Clearing The Field” by Marlaina Cockcroft brought me to tears. It’s a beautiful story about a baseball player standing up for herself and her community when horror steps onto the field. I also appreciate and feel especially emotional about the excellent reversal of tired trope where adults don’t believe children. 
 
“The Ballad of the Blue Sidewinder” by David J. Thirteen mixes genres in a way that smashes through genre conventions and boundaries to simply tell a great story. The clever worldbuilding is careful, confident, and captivating. 
 
“Terror Bird” by Marta Palandri is another favorite. I hoped it would go where I thought it was going, and sure enough, after the doors shut, it went there… and beyond. Terrific and terrifying flash fiction. 
 
I wrote a story about dysfunctional family for the anthology, but two other stories about bad parents really raised the bar with atmosphere and horror. The ballad of “Tam Lin” hauntingly echoes in the cold and bleak background of “Briar and Hemlock” by Jude Reid. The story builds its tension and atmosphere carefully, confidently, excruciatingly until its shattering ending. “Dirty Penny” by Bethany Browning does the same in a similarly cold and bleak setting, but the inevitable keeps getting delayed in excruciating, tense, masterful fashion, leading to another shattering ending & haunting echoes. 
 
Editor Rachel A. Brune’s organization of flash fiction, short stories, and a novella in Stories We Tell After Midnight, Volume 3 led me on a twisted rollercoaster ride through the contemporary horror landscape. In some stories, matter of fact and wry tones contrasted with horrific content in exciting ways, while other stories built their tension through lyrical and atmospheric language. Sometimes the horror hit fast & furious, sometimes tension grew slowly to shattering ends, and always the horror (and occasional hope) lingered long after I finished a story.
The Renunciations: Poems, by Donika Kelly

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challenging dark emotional inspiring reflective sad tense fast-paced

5.0

Donika Kelly is phenomenal at both clarity and figurative language, with images, similes, and metaphors that cut to the emotion, and the bone: "I was born into a house of air," "a winged boar," "The tide pool crumples like a woman / into the smallest version of herself, bleeding onto whatever touches her," etc. The subject matter of her poems can be tough going, but that clarity and purpose serves her well. I'm learning from reading and rereading her poetry how to navigate and write about trauma and recovery, but also love, heartbreak, hope, and nature. Repeating images of nature, even nature suffering at the hands of humanity, offer dignity and grace, connection and sensuality. A fantastic second collection from an incredible poet.
The Forest, by Lisa Quigley

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adventurous dark emotional mysterious sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

I wanted to like this more because of the atmosphere and tension, but I couldn't quite connect with the mother because of the repetitiveness of her thoughts about her baby. Perhaps because I'm not a mom. I do really appreciate the way the ending complicates what I thought I knew up until then. It's a satisfying ending.
Night at the Fiestas: Stories, by Kirstin Valdez Quade

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adventurous challenging dark emotional mysterious reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales, by Eric LaRocca

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challenging dark emotional mysterious reflective sad tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

Letters to Young Carlos, by Carlos Valenzuela

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adventurous emotional funny hopeful inspiring reflective sad tense fast-paced

5.0

Some stories help heal the hurt child in adult me, and this is one of them. Framed by "Your Elder Self" writing Letters to Young Carlos, the novella by Carlos Valenzuela highlights key experiences of a gay boy growing up in a border town, including coming to terms with his sexual identity, making a lifelong friend, discovering first love, dealing with his parents' fraught relationship and his father's homophobia, and more.

The novella moves quickly through young Carlos's childhood and teenage years, but every experience is lovingly described and scenic. I appreciated the blunt, matter-of-fact tone that cuts to the heart of the character's story, and the occasional bursts of lyricism that beautifully elevated what was already emotional. I was in grateful tears by the end.

I wouldn't say this is necessarily a young adult novel, because it becomes powerfully adult in tone in several sections, but I would still recommend this for younger readers, including LGBTQ+ readers. And recommended for everyone else, too. It's a quick, short, powerful, and healing read.
Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life, by Katherine E. Standefer

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challenging dark emotional hopeful informative inspiring reflective sad medium-paced

4.0

The second half of the book is where I became emotionally invested, where the braiding of memoir and information about metals in supply chain (where they come from and the impacts of mining and processing on the local area) really comes together in a stunning way, and where Katherine E. Standefer confronts and embraces the complexity of the questions she is asking and their answers, none of them easy. This all happens within the context of the author's personal medical journey in a problematic health care system that left me sad, angry, and frustrated, right along with the author. A compelling memoir that neatly frames issues related to health care, profit and capitalism, colonialization, globalization, exploitation, and much more.
Weird Horror #1, by John Langan

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adventurous challenging dark mysterious sad tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

We Need to Do Something, by Max Booth

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dark emotional funny mysterious sad tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0