Category Archives: poetry

National Poetry Month: Sara Tantlinger Brings Us Poem on the 1893 World’s Fair and a Discussion on Involvement of Serial Killer H.H. Holmes #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry

Natl Poetry Month pen

April is National Poetry Month and because I write, read, and love poetry, I’m featuring poetry on my site this month! You’ll find poetry, articles, reviews, and more by writers I admire and adore, and also some new poetry writers as well, so stop by often. Tuesday, Bram Stoker Award winning poet Marge Simon brought us a wonderful article called “Illumination Dark Poetry” with various examples of her poetry, which you can find here and yesterday we read some samples from Bram Stoker Award winning dynamo, Stephanie Wytovich, which you can enjoy here.

Today, Sara Tantlinger joins us with a poem from her Bram Stoker Award nominated recent collection The Devil’s Dreamland, which features poems surrounding serial murderer H.H. Holmes. We are able to read the poem below as well as a discussion by Sara about the themes and locale of the piece – the 1893 World’s Fair – and H.H. Holmes and his involvement in it. As some of my historical fiction friends know, I am a World’s Fair and carnival fanatic. I love anything revolving around it!! Mix that with my obsession with true crime, you’re making me shiver in delight. That means I really enjoyed Sara’s poem and article – I hope you do too!

Thanks, Sara!

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An H.H. Holmes Poem Analysis
by Sara Tantlinger, author of The Devil’s Dreamland

Thank you so much to Erin for hosting some poetry fun on her website for National Poetry Month! I am excited to contribute with a poem from The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and to provide a little backstory and history on the poem. The piece is titled “World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair)”, referencing the very fair that helped make serial killer H.H. Holmes famous.

Without further ado, please enjoy the poem!

World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair)

1893, we celebrate the 400th anniversary

of the barbaric slaughtering

Christopher Columbus brought

unto a new world,

but you will find no anger

toward his history here

as the fairgrounds take form, as visitors

flock in droves to taste the excitement

flickering in the air like pixie dust

 

People keep dying,

workers falling from buildings

accidents in the form of skull

fractures and electrocution

all this death contained within

designing the great fair,

 

yet a madman paces inside

his castle, creating spaces

where supposed accidents

will swallow visitors whole

 

a madman forges his dreams

into piping hot realities

where his World’s Fair Hotel

promises spectacular service

so very close to the fair itself

 

Opening Day comes upon the city

in jovial bursts of color,

mouthwatering scents of exotic

pastries and delicacies from themed

exhibits stationed around the park,

thousands of visitors holding their

breath for President Cleveland

to push a button that ignites

a hundred thousand

glowing lamps across the fields,

illuminating neoclassical figures,

the work of men named Tesla

and Westinghouse

 

Dr. Holmes turns away men at the door,

citing reasons of already being booked

to capacity, yet the young women

stroll right in, are welcomed,

intoxicated by their own freedom

blushing at the handsome doctor

who offers great prices,

who offers warm touches

 

they do not see how excitement alerts

trembles into his fingertips,

eager to taste innocence, summon

screeches from their tender tracheas

lick away saccharine death from dying lips,

listen to the snapping of a windpipe,

 

hungry to snuff out light from

wide eyes,

hungry to cut the lights open,

sever the heart to see how it beats

beneath such fine skin,

glowing like the thousand lamps

across the enchanted fairgrounds

(Originally published in The Devil’s Dreamland, StrangeHouse Books, 2018).

About the Poem –

The fair of 1893 was a magical time. The undertaking and thus construction of everything the fair needed to be successful was an exasperating project. I wanted the poem to reflect the enchantment this exposition offered. After all, people arrived in the thousands during the fair’s run – people from all across the globe. Over 20 million people ended up attending the fair altogether!

This was Chicago’s chance to show the world how beautifully they recovered from the Great Chicago Fire. Gone was the soot and wreckage of the fiery aftermath, and in its place stood a gleaming white city, warm and inviting. However, the poem also needed to honestly reflect what the fair organizers and architects didn’t want anyone to see….

1893 Worlds Fair

While the shine of the fair easily put forth its best face, a true darkness lingered beneath the food, exhibits, new buildings, rides, and everything else the celebration displayed. Construction workers died during the assembly of the fair. A fire broke out in July killing over a dozen fairgoers and firefighters. The White City was a fairytale. Outside the fair, animal corpses rotted on the streets. Stockyards and factories filled Chicago with smoke and filth. Garbage piled up along roads. Poverty and disease were no strangers here. And of course, a madman paced inside a castle fit for Bluebeard himself.

While it’s unlikely H.H. Holmes is responsible for hundreds of murders, he evolved into a tall-tale of someone who invited hundreds of women to stay at his hotel where he supposedly killed them all. This has never really been proven. While the fair showed great strides in science (like Tesla’s work), forensic evidence was not quite evolved enough to give us the solid facts we need to know everything Holmes might have done. However, we are quite sure he did take Minnie Williams and her sister Anna to the fair (I have more poems about their fates in my collection). So, for this piece, I took both fact and fiction, truths and exaggerated ideas, and spun them into a version that fits the Holmes of my book. Either way, this is one fair I think we should all be glad is far in the past.

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Sara Tantlinger, Biography –

Tantlinger_ap2019Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. She is the author of Love For Slaughter and the Stoker-nominated The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, both released with StrangeHouse Books. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA.

Her debut novella, To Be Devoured, will be published in July 2019 with Unnerving. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com

The Devil’s Dreamland, Info –

The Devil's Dreamland full rezH.H. Holmes committed ghastly crimes in the late 19th century. Many of which occurred within his legendary “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois. He is often considered America’s first serial killer.

In her second book of poetry from Strangehouse Books, Sara Tantlinger (Love For Slaughter) takes inspiration from accounts and tales which spawned from the misdeeds of one Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Fact and speculation intertwine herein, just as they did during the man’s own lifetime.

There’s plenty of room in the cellar for everyone in The Devil’s Dreamland.

“…chilling poetry…” —Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend” and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner

“…morbidly creative and profound crime documentary…one of the best works of horror poetry I’ve read in years.” —Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead

“…fascinating and absolutely riveting…powerful and vivid prose…will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.”—Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

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National Poetry Month: Poetry from Bram Stoker Award Winner Stephanie Wytovich #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry

April is National Poetry Month and because I write, read, and love poetry, I’m featuring poetry on my site this month! You’ll find poetry, articles, reviews, and more so stop by often. Yesterday, Bram Stoker Award winning poet Marge Simon brought us a wonderful article called “Illumination Dark Poetry” with various examples of her poetry, which you can find here.

Today, please enjoy some samples from Bram Stoker Award winning dynamo, Stephanie Wytovich. I dare you not to feel.

Thanks for sharing with us, Stephanie!

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Surgical Fantasies of the Past Ten years
Originally Published in Yes, Poetry

I tattoo incision lines on my stomach,
dream about surgically removing my ugliness.

At sixteen, the girls put laxatives in my peppermint tea,
laughed at me in the mirror when I tried to scream away my calories.

At 26, I cried in the shower when my skin didn’t fall off,
vomited the memories of my ex telling me I was diseased.

Inside, my lungs are a crawl space filled with candy wrappers,
my ribs broken from too many bathroom breaks ending in blood.

There are 206 bones in the human body,
Tell me, how many are in a monster?

 

____

 

Emergency Masturbation Fantasy
Originally Published in Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare

I masturbate to an empty chair

My hand moving up and down

like yours never did

I try to see your face

Scream your name

But     I       can’t

And I wonder if you exist

If my memories are from photographs of people I never met

Whose stories I don’t know

I climax to your eyes

Taste the saliva on your lips

But       I           don’t

Because you’re an empty chair

And my box is broken

Like yours never was

I should stop blaming myself

Quit bleeding for sport

But       I           won’t.

 

___

 

Post-Traumatic Spiders
Originally Published in Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare

My doctor scribbled in her notepad,

“What do you want to talk about today?”

I was already crying

I ate all the cough drops on the table when she wasn’t looking

Her dog was asleep on my foot

I just left my one-night stand in the parking lot.

Frustration wore on her face like the foundation she forgot to wear

“Are the nightmares back?”

I spun my ring around my thumb

I thought about how you said I wore too much jewelry

I tongued the scar on the inside of my cheek

The tarantulas are everywhere.

Her right foot tapped against the carpeted floor

“You know it’s okay, right? That none of this is your fault?”

I didn’t believe her

I felt its legs crawling up my shoulder

I watched it watch me.

I could have stopped it. I could have said no.

 Fifty minutes passed like fifty seconds

“Same time again next Wednesday?

I nodded my head

I picked the spider off my cheek

I swallowed the web it had spun around my mouth

The silk tasted like semen and blood.

Stephanie M. Wytovich, Biography –

Wytovich Headshot_4Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous anthologies such as Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Fantastic Tales of Terror, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction.

Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Follow Wytovich on her blog and on twitter @SWytovich​.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare is her most recent collection. Read about it here!

Sheet Music Front CoverSheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, Info –

Roll the windows down, wipe the blood off your cheek, and turn the music up. Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare by Stephanie M. Wytovich is a collection spattered with dirt and blood, sage and corpses. The poems inside are confessionals and dirges, their stories the careful banter of ghosts and sinners over tequila at the bar.

These pages hold the lyrics to the beautiful grotesque that Wytovich is known for, but here she writes with a raw honesty that we haven’t seen from her before. This new direction takes readers to hospital rooms and death beds, shows the mask that was skinned off her face time and time again. There’s a brutality to her lines that cuts with the same knife she fantasized about it, her blood and tears mixed in with stanzas as she talks about suicide and abuse, heartbreak and falling in love.

Written during a time when the road was her home, these poems were sung under the stars and screamed in the woods, carved into trees. They are broken bottles and cigarette butts, stale coffee and smeared lipstick, each its own warning, a tale of caution.
Listen to them carefully.

They very well might save your life.

Find it on GoodReads to Add or Buy.

Stop back tomorrow for a post from Sara Tantlinger. Then, join us next week when we highlight a bunch more wonderful poetry. Have a great week!

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National Poetry Month Celebration: Welcome Bram Stoker Award Winner Marge Simon on Illuminating Dark Poetry #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry

PoetryMonthGraphic

April is National Poetry Month and I do so love to highlight this type of writing I love to do, and also showcase other poets and work when I get the chance.

I hope to change more people’s minds about genre or dark poetry, in addition to poetry as a whole. I think if you’re one of those hesitant readers, give it a chance you’ll find it different these days than what you’re thinking of (being stuck back in high school classes). There is much to celebrate and appreciate!

For the rest of April I’ll be hosting original and re-print poetry, guest articles, interviews, and reviews from some poets I know and love, mostly in the dark poetry or horror poetry categories. If I have time, I hope to write some articles talking about poetry as well  such as diversity in poetry, feminist voice, dark poetry, favorite poets, but if I don’t get this latter done, I will happily feature them at other times during the year. Poetry never dies.

poetry and books quote

I’m proud to begin my celebration of poetry over the next two weeks with none other than veteran genre poet, Marge Simon! Fittingly enough, in her article she also encourages you to give poetry a try and lay the stereotypes to rest. And stay tuned from some poetry examples from her as well.

Perfect post to begin with….thank you so much, Marge!

Marge Simon is a writer, poet, and illustrator living in Ocala, Florida. She edits a column for the Horror Writer’s Association (HWA) Newsletter, “Blood & Spades: Poets of the Dark Side,” and serves on the HWA Board of Trustees. A Grand Master Poet of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, her stories appear in Daily Science Fiction, Polu Texni, Silver Blade, Bete Noire, and anthologies such as Chiral Mad 4 and Tales from the Lake 5.

Simon has won three Bram Stoker Awards, Rhysling Awards for Best Long and Best Short Poetry, the Elgin Award for Poetry Collection, the Dwarf Stars Award, and Strange Horizons Readers’ Award.

Illuminating Dark Poetry

by Marge Simon, Award-winning Poet and Artist

“I hate poetry.”

“Poetry is nice, but I’d rather have a cookie.”

“Poetry is stupid. I wrote one for my girlfriend and she dumped me.”

I’ve actually had people comment like this to me over the years. In fact, most recently, at a Stoker convention, an author looked straight at me while I was signing a poetry collection and informed a bystander that he hated poetry. “Except for limericks,” he added. “Limericks are fine.” Sure, it was rude, but what can you say to that, other than “to each, their own”?

When I’m pressed by people as to what I write, I say “poetry,” but I’ll hasten to add, “It’s genre or speculative poetry, not what you are thinking of as poetry.” And then I change the subject, because I’m sure they don’t know what I’m talking about, and they don’t ask, and they really don’t care. I tell myself that I’m absolutely certain they are just being polite – and that is why I thought I would never write this article. But later, I got to thinking how there is poetry AND poetry. There is poetry for the general public appreciation, and there is also poetry that appeals to the literary community; there is poetry that those who appreciate both formal and speculative dark poetry.

Still what is so wrong with poetry, anyway? Most of it rhymes and is pleasurable to read if you are in the mood. We have these heavyweights of history to thank for poetry in our lives today – bet you have heard them quoted time over:

Shakespeare

Shelley

Byron

Keats

Kipling

Coleridge

Tennyson

Houseman

Not to mention Poe, C.A. Smith, and of course H.P. Lovecraft. You need to check them out – all of them. Take your time. You’ll find elements of darkness within a number of their works. As well, there are non-rhyming poems – poems with interior rhyme, or poems contrived to look like an object, and so on. How about poems that address the human condition? Speculative is my choice.

Here’s a variety of my stuff for examples.

A poem about familial relationships:

Latch Lock & Chain

I follow the stream into the greenwood,

Old Dozer knows the way, I smile as he

veers off, going deeper into the foliage, where

a last burst of sunset falls on the brick hut,

the same I’d built alone decades ago,

crumbling now, the whitewash almost gone.

 

How pleased I’d been that day to add that sign,

“KEEP OUT”, now buried in a pile of leaves.

I should complete my mission before dark,

for the bastard’s sake, as he’ll be waiting.

 

At first at odds, I determine to convey

the truth, not guise it all in falsehoods.

“There’s been enough bad blood between us.

I’ll set you free, if you promise to forgive.”

From inside I hear a croak of assent.

But Dozer growls, looks at me. Whines.

 

“Mother hated you, she believed my lies.

The mine we co-owned is worthless,

I sold the deed to our land years ago,

and I killed that whore you fancied.”

 

The latch is rusted, but the lock still holds.

My key won’t work, I smash it with my torch.

With trembling hands, I free the chain.

Impossibly thin fingers claw around the door,

pushing it open a crack at a time …

Note: this poem actually concerns the relationship between a man and his dog.

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A dark poem through a child’s eyes:

Sooner, Later

In the canyon

above a stream

corpse of a lynx,

her foot in a bear trap,

six kits spread dead

in line at her dugs,

and all you say is,

just as well

they’d all die anyway,

sooner or later.

 

I was a kid,

so I thought like a kid,

thought how she might

be thirsty, starving,

thought maybe she

could have eaten

them all, one by one

just to say alive,

but that didn’t happen

and you’d said just as well,

they’d all die anyway,

sooner or later.

 

But you were my brother,

bigger than me,

so I didn’t argue,

and I didn’t cry.

Note: this speaks to those who look up to older siblings, realizing in the end that you need to draw your own conclusions about life and death

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A poem through an alien lover’s eyes:

He Promised Me the Moon

I came here hoping

this world would suffice,

but all I met were flimsy ghosts

playing with fractals and logistics,

as meaningless as gossip –until him.

 

He hired me as his model,

even promised me the moon

before his wife’s death.

I wasn’t planning on this,

to know such human feelings.

 

He begged me to move in, after.

But he sits now, staring at his paintings.

He won’t even let me touch him.

Her flowers shrivel in their pots,

for want of her special love.

 

She was from Orlando,

a crowded, touristy place

of slender women, cocktails

at four, fashion-wise and empty-

headed as the rest of their lot.

 

But I don’t leave him. I can’t.

It makes me wince, knowing

I can assume a liquid form,

a creature foreign to this world,

from a planet of endless storms.

 

Perhaps tomorrow he’ll be aware,

pick up his palette, have me pose.

I don’t care how painful or how long,

I only want him to undress me,

kiss me in familiar places –

 

I’ll find us a moon of our own,

far from Earth.

Note: His wife was from Orlando, bringing this into a realm you can identify with – she could be from any city on earth, actually.

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A poem through an ensorcelled puppet’s eyes:

When Again I Feel My Hands

My wooden hands

hang idle on the strings.

Master’s drunk on Holland gin

& sleeps beside the wench

who takes my place.

 

Half human, half wood,

in a world deprived of joy,

I am the fool’s scepter,

a reprieve from tedium,

my simple plays enhanced

by classical compositions.

You cannot know how dear

the price of mirth.

 

With his dark eyes, he wooed me

& with his magic, he prevailed.

Father swore, mother wept

as he swept me in his arms

& then away to foreign lands.

 

Soon he’ll tire of her,

& cast a spell to change her form

as did he mine, to suit his needs.

She’ll bob & bow as I do now,

and he will set me free–

or so he promised, long ago.

 

When again I feel my hands,

I’ll rip away these strings

& as he sleeps, I’ll pull them taut

around his bearded throat,

claim his magic for my own.

 Note: this poor young woman is a victim of falsehoods, a timeless warning.

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 Lastly, a poem about your next door neighbor:

               the decaffeinated man

awake, I wander outside,

hearing screams from neighbor’s house,

move close to their bathroom window;

I see the obsessive man

has tried to clean the filth

from his rectum with Drano, and

not to be outdone, his compulsive wife

has just botched a Clorox gargle

for fresh breath and sparkling white smile.

Note: sometimes you just want a really sicko laugh.

Open your mind to the many other realms of dark poetry. The perspectives are countless! Thanks for inviting me, Erin!

Marge Simon, Biography –

Simonphoto-208x258Marge Simon lives in Ocala, FL. She edits a column for the HWA Newsletter, “Blood & Spades: Poets of the Dark Side,” and serves on the HWA Board of Trustees.  She is the second woman to be acknowledged by the SF & F Poetry Association with a Grand Master Award.

She has won three Bram Stoker Awards, Rhysling Awards for Best Long and Best Short Poetry, the Elgin Award for Poetry Collection, the Dwarf Stars Award,
and Strange Horizons Readers’ Award. Marge’s poems and stories have appeared in Asimov’s SF, Silver Blade, Bete Noire, Grievous Angel, Daily Science Fiction, and in the anthologies, You, Human, Chiral Mad, and The Beauty of Death, to name a few. She attends the ICFA annually as a guest poet/writer, and is on the board of the Speculative Literary Foundation.

She has a daughter, Melle Tillison Broaderick, and two lovely granddaughters. She married a long time friend and colleague, Bruce Boston, in 2001. Besides being a fantastic conversationalist and the love of her life, he has taught her a great deal about writing top notch poetry and fiction, for which she is grateful.

In addition to her solo work, she has written collaborative poetry and fiction with Bruce Boston, Charlee Jacob, Mary Turzillo, Alessandro Manzetti and Bryan Dietrich.

You can view Marge’s fiction, poetry, and art, and contact her for freelance art assignments on her website.

Here is but one of her collections –

Satan's SweetheartsSatan’s Sweethearts
by Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo

Satan’s Sweethearts is an evil collection of poetry. Meet the macabre history of villainesses as Ching-Shih, Dephine LaLaurie, and Lizzie Borden.

Find on GoodReads!

WAR
by Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti

Look in my eyes. My bronze skin reflects the flames of the battles.

I feed on bullets and shrapnel.

WarI have trenches instead of veins and a bombardier’s whirring plays my favorite symphony inside my big head. This is my story, with some of my best camouflages and disguises, and you should expect your peace plans to fail. Because that’s what I do for living.

Look at my million golden teeth necklace. Ring any bells? Maybe you’re too young. I probably should have mentioned the fireworks over the Baghdad night sky, my new friend, or the live broadcast of two great skyscrapers disintegrating. You know what I’m talking about, right? So, you can call me by one of my many names: Great General, Lock-box of the Powerful, Red Rain, Lord of Steel or, more simply, WAR.

I appear as strife of many kinds, from Stalingrad to Scotland. Africa to Afghanistan, the civil war of Italy and the War Between the States, ghostly wars, drug wars, the battle of the sexes, World Wars I, II and visions of a holocaust yet to come. It’s all herein and more, with poems both collaborative and individual.

Find on GoodReads!

My pleasure having Marge on Hook of a Book! Stay tuned this week for posts featuring Bram Stoker Award winning poet Stephanie Wytovich and Bram Stoker nominated poet Sara Tantlinger, with more to come next week from some other awesome poets.

Have a great week!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Feature Articles, poetry, Q and A with Authors, Uncategorized, Usborne and Kane/Miller News

Hooked on Reading: 35 Favorite Books I Read in 2018! #amreading

Over 35 Favorite Books I Read in 2018!

Better late than never is my new motto. Plus, hey, it’s still in the first quarter. I wanted to post a list of some books as reading recommendations I read and really liked in 2018. I discovered after the fact that 30 are by women! It’s not a “best of” list, as with my work and home schedule I didn’t nearly have enough time to read all the books I wanted to in order to do a proper comparison, but a best of what I personally read.

My Best Books 2018 final

When I did read in 2018, it often was books I was editing or a publicity client’s book, and so, you’ll see none of those on this list because I think it’s more ethical to not include books you might have made any money with by association. I am sad to not include some, but I feel it’s the right call. I don’t want to be perceived in offering any bias. These are books I sought out for my own reading interest or pleasure that I really liked (but that’s not to say that books I worked with and/or on this year are not some of my favorites I’ve read from the year either) or were anticipated ARCS.

There were many books I know are worthy or I know I’d have loved if I’d only had time to get to them, but that doesn’t mean I won’t read them in 2019. Also there are some books I started in 2018 but finished in 2019 so they won’t be on this list. Some of the titles below were not published in 2018, but I simply read them then. Therefore, it’s a list of favorite books I read in 2018. It shows you that I have a wide array of interests; I am very happy and proud of the fact that I read widely, cross-genre, both trad pubs and indie, and with diversity and inclusion in mind. To me, this only helps my own writing and editing and allows me to bring much more insight to the writing work I do with others.

One more note, because I am sure some will wonder why there aren’t more indie titles and that’s because I work so much in the horror genre in editing and publicity that I did read quite a few, I just can’t list them, as I said before. Also, there are indie and trad published books that just simply didn’t make the list. If a book didn’t grab me in the first five pages this year, I didn’t pick it up again. I didn’t have time. Also, keep in mind I read book submissions, beta read books, read books prior to and while editing, and read almost 600 short story and poetry submissions for an anthology project as well this year – most all of that horror. So while I read horror, I read so much of it in other ways, I switched gears in some of my pleasure reading (and I was sent very little straight horror ARCS as I am in other genres – go figure?). Though I love fantasy and sci-fi as well, I wasn’t able to read much of it this year due to time.

Some of these favorites below were given to me as ARCS, especially in the historical fiction genre, some were titles I found in trad magazines or watched the buzz about and requested from my library, maybe some I bought. Any print ARCS I am given usually find preference and I understand I still have plenty in my pile that I didn’t get to this year – many I truly want to read. Several I was given at the end of the year and have since read, but that will be January 2019 and the reviews are to come. I’ve switched and organized my schedule to hopefully begin to be more caught up on ARCS this year and be responsive to others, but work, my own writing career, and family always comes first. Please don’t fault me for reading a few books for my own pleasure here and there too (and yes, I ask this, because people do say stuff). I was sad this year I didn’t have more time for reading, but I managed to squeeze in some during insomnia, waiting in the car or other places for my children, or on weekends. I just didn’t have time to type up reviews for all as when you work for yourself time is money. This year one of my goals is to get up more reviews in a timely fashion!

Now that I hopefully have all the disclaimers out of the way, here are some books and collections I enjoyed in 2018:

Horror/Thriller/Fantasy

the-Chalk-ManThe Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor – I read this debut thriller shortly after it came out, mostly because these types of thrillers are some of my personal go-to books when I want some entertainment. This one was getting a lot of positive buzz. I highly enjoyed it and read it in one night. I was captivated throughout and she surprised me in the end.

The-HungerThe Hunger Alma Katsu – I’ve liked Alma’s work for a LONG while, probably before most people in my circles knew her name. I highly anticipated The Hunger, due to it having several factors that make me raise my hand: history, extreme cases in history, and survival. I’m primarily an historical fiction reader, so couple that with my next love of horror, and I’m happy. Alma’s writing is so professional, clean, and interesting. I loved the complexity about it. I highly recommend for fellow fans of Dan Simmons.

MelmothMelmoth by Sarah Perry – I just loved the description of this next book by Perry (the follow-up, but not linked, to The Essex Serpent) and so it was on my highly anticipated list. Perry is a very skilled writer and I love the intertwining of so many cool places around the world (set in Prague – I mean I’m silently screaming) and again, through flashbacks, an historical aspect. I mean if you truly love 18th century gothic to its core like me, this one will suck you in and most likely dry and you’ll need to recover. It’s fantastical and unique.

ProvidenceProvidence Caroline Kepnes – I mean CAROLINE. Caroline has a very original sort of writing. The type that you could pick up a book blinding and know it’s her writing as you start to read it. She’s funny, dramatic, soul crushing, and inspiring all at once. I mean the gamut of emotions I experienced reading this book left me wondering just how I truly did feel – terribly sad and broken? Inspired by devotion? Light humor always takes away the gloom realities of Caroline’s books and I love reading her for it. There are many popular authors I won’t name who are trying to do the same thing (ahem, sorry men) and it doesn’t work even 90% as well as Caroline doing it. I really enjoyed reading it.

The Forgotten GirlThe Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers – This is a page turning read that was just a lot of fun, with twists, turns, and originality. Youers gives great voice to his characters and you truly feel for them, even though the story is being unfolded at a very fast pace. You can’t help but want to know what happens to them and want it to end well, but you’re just not sure if it will at the same time – or if they will ever be the same. It has a lightness to it, as a read, and some humor of course. The plot propels the reader.

UNBURY CarolUnbury Carol by Josh Malerman – I don’t think I really love anyone’s work in horror at the moment more than I love Malerman’s. To me, he transcends writing and puts it into some other plane of creative existence. Literary, without being too posh, horror that doesn’t wreck your emotions in the way many horror books do – by being in your face – but subliminally strokes your insides until your weeping in places you didn’t realize or searching for lost places inside yourself or others. He knows how to tell a tale, but within it, he’s trying to get a glimpse at humanity himself. At all those lost questions. He’s phenomenal and he’s only getting started. Unbury Carol was not a favorite to some, but to me, it was my favorite so far! I can so relate to Carol on various levels and it just really spoke to me. Couple that with the fact I like deconstructed fairy-tales (Sleeping Beauty here) and even westerns, I was sold from the start and enjoyed every moment of it.

Siren and the SpecterThe Siren and the Specter by Jonathan Janz – This could also be put under Gothic category. I’ve read all of Janz’s books over the years and this was one of the best I’ve read of him flexing his paranormal fingers. He writes a solid haunted house story with an original plot. I’d say he truly keeps showing his mastery at the southern gothic style and should be receiving way more accolades for his work than he is – he really should have made the Bram Stoker ballot this year. He writes with intelligence and creates meaningful, complex characters, wrapping them up in just the right amount of scares. Ominous, atmospheric work.

(In full disclosure, his last two books were with the publisher I worked with so I promoted those books, as well as he’s been my personal client at times when he needed publicity support, but I felt I could give one tiny inch past my ethical presence on this one since I am not associated with Flame Tree and I didn’t work on this particular title. Plus, I REALLY loved it!)

The Night MarketThe Night Market by Jonathan Moore – I have loved Moore’s work since his first crime thriller/horror novel Redheads, and then, first in his next loosely-connected series of three books, The Poison Artist (one of my top favorite reads ever), from which The Night Market is the third book. I’ve neglected, as with many reviews in 2018, to get a review written and up, so I will remedy that in 2019, but suffice to say that this was one of my favorite books of 2018 – and it came in the first month of the year. Moore is precise in his plot, creative with characters and setting, unique in his mysteries, and yet, also manages to put in such cool scientific and forensic work too. The Night Market has him at the top of his game with his captivating suspense and decadent prose. This one, being set in a near future San Francisco, has a different appeal from the previous too so might enchant fans of dystopian and sci-fi as well.

Damned by the AncientsDamned by the Ancients (Nemesis of the Gods #3) by Catherine Cavendish – It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Cat Cavendish is one of my favorite horror suspense and/or gothic authors. In this series, she’s combined several other favorites of mine by using history, art, and Egyptology as her base for some captivating thrills. Though top on my list as personal fun reads, I hadn’t gotten to the first two books yet, but opted to dive into the third since it came out this year. You can read them stand alone, but I am sure they are better in order. At any rate, I’ll be going back to the other two for sure after I read my copy of her highly anticipated The Haunting of Henderson Close, which came our January of 2019. Damned by the Ancients has an intricate plot, good historical research, mesmerizing characters, and a pace that can quicken the heart of any reader because it’s also very scary!

methodThe Method by Duncan Ralston – This book, a Kindle Scout Winner from 2017, was just way better than I even thought the concept might be from reading the back cover copy. This was a psychological suspense thriller that is also categorized as horror, because it’s more violent mid to end; terrorizing. He combines it all nicely, leaving you uncomfortable, unsure, and wanting to know with every page, from the very first page, what is about to happen next and who you can trust. The characterization, plotting, and suspense all are stable foundations for a very entertaining read. Would be a great film (in fact he’s just finished writing the screenplay)!

Gothic Mystery and Mystery

The Death of Mrs. WestawayThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – Have you heard me say how much I love Ruth Ware? I’m President of the Ruth Ware Fan Club. Not really, but I’d be happy to if anyone wants to form said club! I was really looking forward to what book she was putting out in 2018 after reading The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game in 2017. I was thrilled to find this one a little more on the gothic side as well, which I love of course. Ruth always gives me a good mystery and this one didn’t fail to twist, turn, and surprise me. I always identify with her main character. It’s a great summer read.

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – This was a re-read for me that I picked up after many, many years so I could try to do the read-a-long with the Ladies of Horror Fiction. I read it all again within a couple days because I couldn’t stop. I just love this book as much as ever. There are so many things I could say about the novel – from its mystery to its atmosphere to its clever clues placed within scenery and characters, Du Maurier reminded me again why she’s a big influence on my own writing.

The AtrocitiesThe Atrocities by Jeremy Shipp – What a very strange novella that I had to read twice. I picked this book up as it seemed very different, surreal maybe, and gothic. Maybe much like Slade House. I’d say that all held true. Shipp’s mind is imaginative and flowing – almost like you’re reading a dream state. It was an experience for sure that I’m glad I tried, and I’d certainly recommend if you like literary horror that colors outside the lines like me.

The Body in the LibraryThe Body in the Library by Agatha Christie – I never tire of Agatha Christie and love reading her books, books about her, watching the movies, etc. I enjoyed reading The Body in the Library as a fun summer read and re-visiting the mystery with Miss Marple. I am largely a Poirot fan in general as it pertains to Christie’s detectives, and Miss Marple needs to shine more in this title, but overall I enjoyed the plot. I picked it up…well, because of the library of course. I enjoyed her descriptions and humor as always and the fact that it seemed very modern even though it was written decades ago.

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Polombo

SpellbookI love anything “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as most people who know me will agree. I was eager, both in reading previous books by Polomobo (and liking them) and because this re-telling of Sleepy Hollow was from Katrina’s point of view and added the new twist of the disappearance of Ichabod on All Hallows Eve. Polombo introduces the character of Charlotte, who is the witch friend of Katrinia, and together they use magic to search for him. It was a fun read perfect for last October. It’s a little more on the romance/sex side than what I normally like in books and it was hard to know what category to put it in. Fellow horror readers didn’t think it was horror, though obviously it has horror and paranormal elements, it has witches and magic, it’s a mystery, and historical readers claimed it as her other works feature women in history (and the setting), plus it has this romance and some suspense as well. It’s an entertaining read encompassing all these things and is probably most likely suited for mainstream readers, not genre readers.

Domestic Thrillers/Suspense

The WifeThe Wife by Alafair Burke – I have followed Alafair Burke’s career since her first book. Though I haven’t read all of them in between, I’ve read quite a few. This one was SUPERB. Alafair’s writing never disappoints. Just what I needed for an escape into something else. I highly recommend this one for your next snowed-in or summer read if you like family crime or thriller dramas. It will suck you fully in and leave you astounded at the end.

Bring-Me-BackBring Me Back by B.A. Paris – Another stand out thriller from Paris that kept me guessing. I loved the including on the Russian nesting dolls in this one – and since I received this as an ARC, a doll showed up in my mailbox too (THRILLED!). It’s signature her if you’ve read her other books, though if you’ve read all her other work before this one, it might start to feel a little bit same in some respects. Nonetheless, it was a fun summer read I really enjoyed. Of course, her twists and turns always surprise me.

sometimes_i_lie.jpg.size-custom-crop.0x650Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – Another in the vein of the thrillers I like, this title might be at the top for one of my best novels read last year. And it’s a debut, so I look forward to more to come from her. I feel it was a little cleaner and tidier than some of the other popular domestic thrillers (my editor eye coming out I guess) and that it flows and ties up things more smoothly. Plus, I felt I was in this character’s head with her! From my GoodReads review: “Page-turning quick read that hooked me and had me guessing. So many twists, made me think and go back to re-read parts. Excellent psychological thriller. Very enjoyable!”

the perfect strangerThe Perfect Stranger Megan Miranda – This was totally another fun summer read that took just a night to get through because I wanted to find out what would happen. It was so entertaining and it was one I truly enjoyed reading. Memorable characters and page-turning suspense. This is a great read for long summer evenings or on vacation. I will read anything Miranda publishes.

 

Historical Fiction

Tiffany BluesTiffany Blues by M.J. Rose – I am a HUGE fan of Tiffany glass and have had a decade long interest in reading anything having to do with the Tiffany family. As past reviews over the years on my site indicate, I’m also an enormous fan of Rose’s writing and books as well. Once I finally got a chance to sit down with this book, I breezed through it in no time at all. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, the mystery intertwined with romance, and the descriptions. I still owe a full review for this one on my site and I’ll still get to it this year.

The Lost Season of Love and SnowThe Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam – Jennifer is wonderfully smooth historical fiction author. It’s easy to get swept away in her novels and it suddenly be the next morning (which is in fact what happened to me). Of course, I love any fiction that has to do with Russia – this one of course even showcased a favorite poet, Alexander Pushkin! I read this over a year ago now, in January 2018, and I still owe a review on my site. I really must do that because if you like historical fiction, stories of women in history who were with powerful men, slight romance, and/or even want to learn a take on the life of Pushkin, this is highly recommended by me. Beautiful, tormenting, and sad, it’s also light-hearted in its pen because of Jennifer’s sweet writing skills.

Trial on Mount KoyaTrial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann – Susan is one of my most beloved historical mystery fiction authors. I love her descriptions of Japan and her characters – I’ve come to feel like I know them. This one I did get a review up on the site for and you can find it HERE. It’s book six in her fantastic series. You can find review and interviews with her throughout the years on my site by putting her name in the search bar.

MyDearHamilton-500x750My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie – I mean this book is a NYT best-selling national sensation and it’s well-deserved. It’s historical fiction at the very finest. You can read my full review and interview from this year here.

The Romonov EmpressThe Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner – Again, I love anything surrounding Russian history in literature. I also am a giant fan of Gortner and read all his books. If you like historical fiction, you can’t get much better than reading Gortner. This book was OUTSTANDING. I am late on a full review of it as well, but I’ll still have one up for those interested this year. It’s never too late to add this one to your collection.

Ecstasy-by-Mary-SharrattEcstasy by Mary Sharatt – Mary is also an author I look forward to every year and she never disappoints. This historical fiction book was a highlight of my year. Her writing is so deep yet so delectable, it’s like eating a really good meal (and I love a good meal). I always am swept away by her writing. If you like stories of strong women in history, this one is another to add to your list. Alma Schindler, wife of Gustav Mahler, but brilliant composer in her own right, is explored in ultimate ode to the beauty of women’s perseverance for their own talents and passions.

Collections

The Purple Swamp HenThe Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively – If you’ve never read Booker Prize winning London author Penelope Lively, you need to rectify that immediately. When I first started reading Lively, I wondered about the style of writing in the stories (this published in 2017 and she’s towards the end of her career). I took a breath and re-trained my brain to go with her flow. I was glad I did, as it took on a whole new cadence that I really enjoyed. Sharp, perceptive, witty, and emotionally captivating, I was drawn in to each one differently. These are stories I could re-read again.

Anthologies

The Devil and the DeepThe Devil and the Deep edited by Ellen Datlow – I love anything that has to do with water and that carries over to literature. In fact, I have a collection of “water associated” books! I think Ellen Datlow is one of the finest editor and curators in the business and I really enjoyed over half of the stories in this anthology, if not all of them on some level. I feel she did a great job at funneling a wide array into the anthology and as well was inclusive as far as authors. I still owe a review on this one too – which hopefully I’ll get done soon. It was only one of a few anthology reads for me this year, which is a shame as I LOVE anthologies, but it was the favorite of those I read.

Poetry Collections

I-Am-Not-Your-Final-GirlI Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire Holland – One of my favorite books of poetry this year, Claire’s debut work really humanizes and values all the strength of the final girls in so many horror movies we’ve watched over the years, taking them for granted. No more, as she gives them their due, with a swift blade for a pen and a black heart for those against these women. I need to present you a further review for this one soon as well, but I highly recommend it – to anyone. If you’ve never read poetry, so what? Read it.

Lessons on ExpulsionLessons on Expulsion by Erika L. Sanchez – I have a lot to say about this poetry collection and so at some point I’ll be posting a stand-alone review, but honestly, this TORE MY GUTS out and really made me feel for women and children in Mexico. From sex workers, murder, narco- traffickers, rape, abuse to artists and love, this is all about survival. I was just BLOWN AWAY. Consider eyes opened. This was my favorite poetry collection of 2018 – and one of my favorites ever read.

Your Heart is the Sea by Nikita Gill – “People aren’t born sad, we make them that way.” That is a line from the poem “Why We Are All Afraid to Be” from Gill’s latest collection. Your Heart is the Sea 2I read everything she puts out because it’s beautifully heart-wrenching and soul cleansing and reminds me a lot of things I’ve been through, things I’ve written about myself, and yet, offers hope to hold onto at times as well. This collection came out in December 2018, and I was drawn to it because as most people know, I love the sea. There are so cool illustrations inside, but the poetry is the highlight of course. Her honest rendering of humanity and the heart gives me purpose.

WarWAR: Dark Poems by Alessandro Manzetti and Marge Simon – The back cover copy states, “I appear as strife of many kinds, from Stalingrad to Scotland. Africa to Afghanistan, the civil war of Italy and the War Between the States, ghostly wars, drug wars, the battle of the sexes, World Wars I, II and visions of a holocaust yet to come. It’s all herein and more, with poems both collaborative and individual.” This collection takes us around the gamut of the globe, our relationships, and our hearts to parch our dehydrated tongues and bolster our internal defenses. I love historical work – mixing historical with horror is something I enjoy – so being able to read this historical horror poetry collection was grand. It’s something I aspire to – both Manzetti and Simon are master poets, bring vividness to the page. 

fierce-fairytalesFierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill – All of Gill’s collection have qualities of female empowerment, as does this one, all wrapped up in references to fairy tales. I love fairy tales, but since they are a little cliché and delve into stereotypical references, Gill re-molds the pieces giving us some empowering stuff. I loved what Gill did with these poems and the cover is beautiful as well as her own original art which graces the inside pages.

to-make-monsters-out-of-girlsto make monsters out of girls by Amanda Lovelace – Lovelace’s collection of poetry books are must- haves for any strong female who has been through a lot and is coming out swinging. Her collection from 2018 offer no less empowerment and words to survive by. This one particularly hit home to me as a domestic abuse survivor. The poetry is all about being in a relationship like this and completely moved me. Deep, dark, emotional, but there’s also healing.

Sea of StrangersSea of Strangers by Lang Leav – Leav is an inspiration writer on love and life and heartache and personal growth after break-ups. This collection has poetry written in stanza, some short essays, some quotes – all types of poetry that breaks your heart again or soothes it or both at the same time. Probably her best so far. She’s much more inspirational and empowering than dark in anyway and offers enough light that her poems and quotes are very sharable.

The-Poet-X-by-Elizabeth-Acevedo-309x468Poet X by Elizabeth Acevado – I first entranced learning of Acevado in my son’s college magazine from George Washington University. They featured her this year, and the book, as she is an alumnus from there with a degree in performing arts. A child of Dominican immigrants, raised in NYC, she now lives with her husband in Washington D.C. Something about the connection drew me to her, but upon reading her words, she mesmerized me all on her own. I educated and found out she is a renowned slam poet, then she went on this year to win a National Book Award for Poet X, which was highly deserved (I had been rooting for it when I heard it was nominated). This is primarily a YA book, catalogued as such, but anyone can read it – it’s just that the characters are young. It’s a book told solely in poetic verse about a young girl in Harlem discovering slam poetry and using it to understand her mother’s religion and her own coming of age. It’s a lovely, but strong, book of female empowerment and how words can truly help us in so many ways. LOVED IT!

If They Come for UsIf They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar – I have been trying to incorporate reading with diversity in mind. Not just women, of course, but works and poetry stemming from other cultures as well. This book, written in various flashbacks and time periods over the course of Indian’s history of colonization, was eye-opening. Even having a history degree, I was not aware of the atrocities bestowed in the 1940s upon India during their occupation. Asghar grew up in the more modern eras, but she intertwines life of her ancestors and her own modern world as an immigrant in America and offers a horrible bird’s eye view. Her writing is fierce, angry, visceral, haunting, but overall so very important. I absolutely am humbled by this poetry, a little terrified at humanity, but so very glad I read it.

Most Disliked Book of the Year

Strange WeatherStrange Weather by Joe Hill – Of the books I read this year, completely, but still didn’t like, the short story by Joe Hill takes the cake. I absolutely abhorred his story ideas, his comedy, his snark, and his overall writing. I think I maybe liked one of the stories, but it felt like maybe his dad had already done it and/or several movie scripts somewhere down the line – “been there, done that.” I know some people liked it, but I just didn’t connect.

Best Liked Book of Others I Couldn’t Like

Final Girls

The Final Girls by Riley Sager – I tried to read this book three times, and each time I was so bored, I never made it past the fifth chapter. I won’t be reading anything from him again, no matter the buzz. I loved the idea of it but I just couldn’t get into the writing.

Most Anticipated Book I Didn’t Get to Read

The outsider.jpgThe Outsider by Stephen King – I got through 30 pages of it before it was due back at the library (too  many holds!) but was so busy didn’t bother to check it out again. Will wait to buy it and then read it. Looking forward to it though, because I was enjoying what I read of it.

 

Stay tuned for our FAVORITE READ LISTS in YA and Middle Readers as Emma (15) and Addie (11) weigh-in with me on the books we each enjoyed most!

Happy Reading!

About Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi –

Erin Al-Mehairi Bio PhotoErin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has twenty years of professional experience in the communication and marketing fields and is currently an author, writer, journalist, publicist, and an editor.

Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving in 2017, is her debut collection of dark poetry and short stories and was an Amazon best-selling paid title, debuting at #2 in Hot New Releases in Women’s Poetry and held both that and the top ten of horror short stories for months. She has poetry and short stories featured in several other anthologies, magazines, and sites and was the co-editor for the gothic anthology Haunted are these Houses.

You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her books at Amazon, or GoodReads. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter (@erinalmehairi), and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Feature Articles, New Books I've Found, poetry, women in history, women in horror

Valentine’s Day Writing and Book Choices: For Love, For Readers, For Writers, For Healers, For Dreamers

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m about to present some poetry and prose surrounding dark love! But first, I must say I am looking forward to a special Valentine-themed dinner tonight with my family! I’ll be making homemade pink alfredo sauce to top tortellini, which both of my daughter’s adore, salad with strawberries cut into hearts, and a decadent dessert. Probably chocolate, of course. What are your plans?

book heart

Valentine’s Day feels a bit different to me this year. It’s the first year in fifteen years I haven’t been helping at least one of my three children make individual, homemade Valentines for their classmates, valentine boxes, cookies for the party. It’s actually hit me somewhat hard – I always enjoyed this time with them.

I’m also missing my son very much who is away at his first year of college, but he will be able to pick-up a little box filled with love from home soon (hopefully the mail room at George Washington University will begin to actually give students their mail in a more timely fashion). After years spending time solely as a family, or my son sometimes cooking us dinner while the girls were our waitresses, Tim will be taking me out for our own date this weekend and I’m looking forward to that too.

My middle daughter, who is now fifteen, is having fun working on costumes and make-up with her high school’s production of West Side Story, which was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet of course (which she’s also reading in honors English 9), both tales of love so right and gone so wrong.

west side story

I am so happy to have a family like mine, as they understand love gone wrong, and how much healing I’ve had to do, but also they know love done right.

So now on to reading and writing….!

In February (as a whole) we talk about love, don’t we tend to? Even love gone awry? I suppose we can talk, read, and write about it any time, I know I do, so it’s always a good time in my book and today is no exception (and well, IN my own writing love is not always a good time). Whether you spent Valentine’s Day happy in love, alone and happy, or crying, it takes on many forms and is often fodder for writers like me to explore. I wrote a sad poem about someone in unrequited modern love this year, but it was rejected by the literary site I submitted it too. Rejection – happens in love and writing. I still love the poem and will find it a home. Until then, there are some other of my writings you might enjoy!

valentines-day-candy-hearts-4014974I did have a story accepted by The Horror Tree for their Trembling with Fear series, which is online but also will be made into a print anthology. This short story, “Sinking Hearts” was titled by my 11 year old, though don’t let that fool you, it packs a punch.

This is total love gone wrong and what revenge might unfold. It’s FREE to read in honor of Valentine’s Day on their Love is in the Air (or not) series, right HERE!

My poem “Chained by Love,” was featured in the February 2018 issue of Enchanted Conversation: a fairy tale magazine. My gothic-themed poem showcased the love between moral Raymond and sea serpent/mermaid Melusine in medieval France folklore. You’ll see their happiness takes a different turn. You can read it for free in the magazine HERE. I’d like to again say thanks to them for choosing my piece to publish and for putting out such a gorgeous edition.

“A beautiful, tragic fairy tale.” – Author R.J. Crowder

“Very powerful, Erin. I loved it.” – Bram Stoker Nominated Author Jeremy Hepler

“Well done. Enjoyed it!” – Illustrator and Writer Michael Mitchell

ECFebruaryIssue-LOVE-ArtAmandaBergloff

I had a story called “The Heart of the Orchard” featured in the anthology HARDENED HEARTS, which released from Unnerving in December 2017 (but perfect read for February). It was widely reviewed, shared on social media with positivity, and I’m pleased that my story has been doing quite well too. My story is like a crime/serial killer/revenge story wrapped up with a fairy tale vibe. It’s a little bit of something I’ll always do to have a bit of the feel of grim fairy tales in my work. I grew up with Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and other folklore inspiring me and it’s not unusual it transferred into my work. The darker the better, but for me, it’s a way of dealing with trauma and fears. It’s totally the dark side of relationships and what they can lead to…

In this anthology there are all types of stories from love that hurts, to love gone wrong, to weird love, to the love of something unusual, to the loss of a loved one, but always each will get you feeling. Here is the synopsis:

17 stories of difficult love, broken hearts, lost hope, and discarded truths. Love brings pain, vulnerability, and demands of revenge. Hardened Hearts spills the sum of darkness and light concerning the measures of love; including works from Meg Elison, author of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award), Tom Deady, author of Haven (Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel), Gwendolyn Kiste, author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and Pretty Marys All in a Row (and Bram Stoker Nominated Author) and more. Hardened Hearts dips from speculative, horror, science fiction, fantasy, into literary and then out of the classifiable and into the waters of unpinned genres, but pure entertainment nonetheless.

Praise for my story in Hardened Hearts, “The Heart of the Orchard” –

“The Heart of the Orchard by: Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi – Loved, loved, loved this one—the setting, the tone, the writing—all of it was great!” – Literary Dust

‘The Heart of the Orchard’ by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi is another of the strongest works in the anthology. A dark fairy tale focussing on a young woman with a scarred past who is offered help in her quest to succeed with her fruit orchard by a character known only as The Orchard Man. She gratefully accepts his assistance in the form of herbs for her sleeplessness and fertiliser for her peach trees.” – This is Horror

“THE HEART OF THE ORCHARD by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi. This read almost like a warped fairy tale, and as we all know, fairy tales can often be quite grim.” – Char’s Horror Corner (in listing the tales that stood out for her)

“THE HEART OF THE ORCHARD by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi – This one deserved its own book also! A+” – Book Dragon Girl (in listing her favorite stories)

I was also thrilled that for some, my story resonated, or they found it worthy of special mention. I know that my story, besides having some fantastical components, can also be unsettling because it’s based on some trauma I experienced in my own life. I channeled this into my character. I think it is the ultimate in hardening a heart and it was what propelled me to write it to match the theme.

You can check it out HERE! 4.18 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.

51JrJB0XLjL

In my dark poetry and fiction collection, BREATHE. BREATHE., being in relationships is explored because I wrote my emotions about living in a domestic violence situation for many years into some of my poems. If you like love gone wrong, stories about domestic relationships, whether to connect or get a bird’s eye view or for suspense, and you like books like Gone Girl, Dolores Claiborne, Rose Madder, Big Little Lies, and other such, you may want to give some of the poems and stories in my collection a try. For the stories, I’d especially recommend my “Vahalla Lane” mini-series of fiction.

BreatheBreathe

Other Suggested Titles

You might also check out my friend Sara Tantlinger’s poetry collection Love for Slaughter, which is not for my faint of heart readers (it has lots of bloody verse). It’s gritty, dark, undigestible but unputdownable too. It’s intelligent but gory in the details, messy as in love and life. It’s very hard to look away.

This debut collection of poetry from Tantlinger takes a dark look at all the horrors of love, the pleasures of flesh, and the lust for blood. For discerning fans of romance and the macabre, look no further than Love for Slaughter.

Find it on GoodReads HERE.

Love for Slaughter

If you’re healing from love gone wrong, you might try DragonHearts, which is a new release from three of today’s best-selling poets: Nikita Gill, Amanda Lovelace, and Trista Mateer. They weave an empowering tale in their collaborative poetry collection through the combination of prose and poetry, use fairy tales and myths to create something that is both timeless and extremely relevant to present-day issues, such as the #MeToo movement, reclaiming your voice, feminism, and the shared power of self-love and solidarity. This book is a reminder that romantic love does not need to be the main plot of your story, sometimes friendship is.

Another set of poetry and words that tears out your heart, puts band-aids on it, makes you feel and weep, and makes you feel alive and real.

Check it out HERE!

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For my other followers, friends, and fans who don’t read as much poetry and prefer novels, but still want some gothic and historical reads, pre-order HERE for yourself or your Valentine The Lost History of Dreams by my friend Kris Waldherr, coming in April from Atria! Kris is a fabulous artist and writer, who puts words on the page like she inks color on a canvas.

Check out this pre-blurb: Wuthering Heights meets ‘Penny Dreadful’ in Kris Waldherr’s The Lost History of Dreams, a dark Victorian epic of obsessive love, thwarted genius, and ghostly visitations. Eerily atmospheric and gorgeously written, The Lost History of Dreams is a Gothic fairy-tale to savor.” – Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK and THE HUNTRESS

The Lost History of Dreams

Or if you can’t catch West Side Story yourself somewhere, and don’t want to delve into the language of Shakespeare with Romeo and Juliet, you can read the tragic love story of Abelard and Heloise through The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones! Find it HERE!

Among the young women of 12th century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God.

But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever. Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Nôtre Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition.

As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure.

You can see my past review of it HERE.

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Or if you just like your romance on the dark thriller side, read YOU by Caroline Kepnes. This totally an example of love done wrong, gone wrong, but gives you all the suspense you need to eat an entire box of chocolates. It’s a favorite of mine from Atria/Emily Bestler Books.

From the cover copy:

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

You can find it HERE.

YOU book

If you don’t have time to read the book, check out the series of same name on Netflix, which is stellar. It’s was of the my favorite shows I’ve watched in some time. It’s great for a weekend binge and those chocolates… maybe wine… with or without someone to share it with!

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Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, however or with whomever you celebrate! At the least, buy yourself a box a chocolates, and better yet, A BOOK! LOVE is the universal language. 

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Review: Hibernate With Me is a Darling Children’s Picture Book!

Today, I’m starting off the week talking about a beautiful children’s book. For anyone who enjoys picture books or has small children to buy for or read with, HIBERNATE WITH ME is pure joy. It can do nothing but put joy on your face and warmth in your heart with its delightful art and lyrical prose. It releases tomorrow, February 12, 2019 from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

Hibernate with Me Cover

Hibernate With Me, by Benjamin Scheuer and illustrated by Jemima Williams, is the perfect bedtime or naptime story for anyone with small children or grandchildren, but it’s lovely for libraries, school, or daytime centers as well to help children feel safe and secure in their environments. The lovely use of bears allows for any child and caregiver to enjoy the books – plus the bears are darling!

Though my children are a bit older than the age range of 4-8 (my girls are 15 and 11), we still enjoy looking at picture books together. They’ve even taken up my obsession of wanting to collect them. So yes, if you are an adult who likes picture books like me, the art and poetic words of this story make it one you’ll want to keep on your shelf.

As a published poet myself, I can see very much how the words to the story are a poem. The author Benjamin Scheuer writes in a rhyming way of course, because he’s a song writer – so this is also something that can be (and has been) turned into a beautiful lullaby. I definitely hope they might release a CD of bedtime songs for children. He captures the themes of caring for a young child, such as giving them enough space to roam while keeping a watchful eye and understanding moods and uncertainties small children go through while navigating life. He does all this with limited words that he’s chosen carefully to rhyme and flow with each other – almost like hug for the reader themselves.

Illustrator Jemima Williams’ art is a treasure. Working formerly on the animated show Peppa Pig, I think you can see her experience in this work as her art has action and movement just perfect enough that these bears could be made into a show of their own. Honestly, her artwork is some of the more adorable animal and nature art for children I’ve seen in some time and I’m now a big fan and will be following her work because I love her style. My daughters and I loved particularly her use of the monarch butterfly, which tells a story itself of transformation and consistency, and her dandelions, which say no matter how one changes, or if you seem a weed or flower, one can be there for you. Williams’ art is so warm and inviting.

Overall, we had a so many smiles reading this story together! My daughters were exclaiming quite often, “Oh that’s so cute! That’s so sweet!” And yes, we hugged afterwards. Who says pre-teens and teens can’t love their parents? haha!

I highly recommend this book for almost anyone who loves art and a good rhyming poem or song for children. In this day and age, love like this soothes the heart.

And the accompanying song video is absolutely adorable, filled with drawings from the book and artfully sung, I think you’ll want to watch it over and over again!

Hibernate with Me Cover

About Hibernate with Me

Hibernate with Me is a gentle reminder that no matter how sad, small, or scared you feel, you are always worthy of love, and that brighter days are always ahead.

Sometimes you feel small. Sometimes you feel shy.
Sometimes you feel worried, and you might not know why.

Sometimes you want nobody to see.
Darling, you can hibernate with me.

If you feel scared or lost, or even just a little shy, love means there will always be a place to hibernate together.

A place that’s cozy, warm, and safe.

Author and Illustrator Biographies
Benjamin Scheuer and Jemima Williams –

Author and Illustrator Photo

Benjamin Scheuer is a Drama Desk Award–winning singer-songwriter and playwright. He toured his solo show The Lion around the United States and Europe, giving more than five hundred performances. His album Songs from The Lion was released in 2016 (Warner/ADA) along with four animated music videos, which have been shown at film festivals around the world. With photographer Riya Lerner, Scheuer created the book Between Two Spaces, the proceeds of which raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Scheuer lives in New York City with his wife, illustrator Jemima Williams, and their dog, Porthos.  Visit him online at BenjaminScheuer.com.

Jemima Williams is a British illustrator and writer who worked for nearly a decade on the BAFTA Award–winning animated show Peppa Pig. She illustrated Andy Nyman’s The Golden Rules of Acting and has been a frequent contributor of illustrations and writing to the online women’s magazine Standard Issue. Jemima lives in New York City with her husband, Benjamin Scheuer, and their dog, Porthos. Visit her online at JemimaWilliams.com.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for allowing me to kick off their tour of this title around the online world! If you want to see more about the book, follow along for the next few weeks at the sites below.

Online Tour Schedule

Monday, February 11 – Oh, For the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, February 12 – Carol’s Notebook

Wednesday, February 13 – Pretty Deadly Reviews

Thursday, February 14 – Katie Reviews Books

Friday, February 15 – MaiStoryBook

Monday, February 18 – Mundie Kids

Tuesday, February 19 – Good Books & Good Wine

Wednesday, February 20 – Bookworm for Kids

Thursday, February 21 – Dr. Bookworm

Happy reading!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Children and Family, poetry

10 Pieces of My Writing from 2018! And 8 That You Can Read for FREE!

Hi Friends!

Coming off the heels of the end of 2017 bringing about my debut poetry and fiction collection Breathe. Breathe., and contributor stories in the anthologies of Hardened Hearts and Project Entertainment’s My Favorite Story, I found myself writing even more in 2018! So what did 2018 bring in terms of my creative writing….

Not only did I finish, with paper and pencil of course, my next poetry-only collection (which will be in the typing and editing stages for early 2019), but I wrote many stand alone poems and stories for various magazines and projects, some which are already published and others which I’m working on submitting this year (I’ve already submitted two – fingers crossed!).

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Me trying to WRITE at the library with the crazy person pacing back and forth while rapping out loud to the music in his headphones! haha!

I wanted to share some of my writings from this year that are available for free at links below. A good portion are from a women in horror writing monthly challenge, which helped keep my juices flowing, so I have so much thanks for Nina D’Arcangela and her team for running this project and giving us a platform for our work.

I was also featured in several anthologies as a contributing author as well as a co-curating editor, and you’ll find more information on them at the links below too!

I want to remind people that some of these are horror or trend toward darker fiction, but some of them are fairytale, or fantasy, or just writings that anyone can read!

It was a strange year full of more personal and professional strife, changes, and issues – and most of all, some semblance of transformation. I don’t even know how I got done half of what I did! I appreciate so very much those who’ve continued to support me both personally and professionally, those that keep Breathe. Breathe. continuously alive online with reviews and praise, and to friends who’ve stood by me through it all. We live and learn who our friends are in this business, and what I’ve learned the hard way just might be fodder for a future dark fiction collection.

Read my Poetry and Short Stories FREE online at these links – 

Poetry:

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Chained by Love” – Enchanted Conversation: A Fairytale Magazine, Feb. 2018 Issue. (Note: As far as I can tell this poem is also eligible for Rhysling nomination in the over 50 words category and I’d be honored for any SFPA members to take a look at it.)

A Land of Autumns” – SpillWords Press, Nov. 2018. 

Life’s Shadow” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, June 2018 (Note: Should be eligible for Rhysling)

Sacrificial Invitation” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, Nov 2018 (Note: Should be eligible for Rhysling)

Mummy Poetry – You can read two of my mummy poems right here on my own site! They were two of my favorite to write all year!

Short Stories:

Purple Hex Society” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, May 2018

The Witch’s Cottage” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, Oct. 2018

The Insistent Reporter” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, Dec. 2018

Anthologies:

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Cover by Luke Spooner

Wrapped in Battle” – Poetry, Dark Voices Anthology, Lycan Valley Press, July 2018. I dedicate this poem in memory and honor of all my female family and friends who’ve fought cancer, as the proceeds of the anthology go to breast cancer research organizations. This is an all-female anthology and I am so thrilled to be a part of it with so many other fabulous women dark fiction authors. My poem finishes up the collection. It’s currently available in print only, but should be available in e-book later this year.

Purchase – Amazon

Add to GoodReads

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Haunted Are These Houses” – co-editor, Gothic Poetry and Short Fiction Anthology, Unnerving, Sept. 2018. I read almost 600 poetry and short story submissions as co-editor of this anthology, had the great honor of bringing in and editing Catherine Cavendish’s short story to it (she’s one of my favorite women authors in horror), and was in final, the poetry editor, curating the poetry selections from some of the finest poets in the dark fiction and horror communities such as Bruce Boston, Stephanie Wytovich, Sara Tantlinger, Christina Sng, and more.

Purchase – Amazon

Add to GoodReads

If you enjoy my work, I love hearing comments and thoughts! Thank you so much for supporting me in my work in 2018. I am looking forward to an even more productive 2019 with my writing – stay tuned for a post on that soon.

Warm wishes,

Erin

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Read My Poem, “A Land of Autumns”

My poem “A Land of Autumns” was accepted by SpillWords Press for their site a month ago. I find it funny actually, as it’s an October poem they decided to publish on November 17…okay, I told myself…autumn in November will still be lovely out here in the country where I am. I’m just glad it’s published for all to read even if it mentions October. It will be fine.

But then, of course, we had only three days of Fall, all the leaves are off the trees, and it’s ice and snow everywhere. So, my friends, let my poem take you back in time….or cry…either. As my 11 year old said, “I refuse to celebrate anything but Octobers and Novembers and Fall until after Thanksgiving.” I’m with her, so far.

If you enjoy my poem, please let me know what you think. It boosts a writer’s motivation, you know. *wink*

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Here is the poem: http://spillwords.com/for-a-land-of-autumns/

Have a wonderful weekend!

Erin

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Halloween Poetry Gifts for My Readers: Two Poems Featuring Mummies!

I love giving treats, so what better treat could I think to give everyone for Halloween than a couple of my original, unpublished poems! As a gift to readers, I’ve posted two of my MUMMY poems below. I’ve always had an obsession with mummies myself (mostly the Egyptian variety), and especially reading about mummies in horror! I’m a fanatic about historical research and excavations of mummies, but also fantastical fiction of curses and revenge.

Let me know what you think in the comments! I will offer a brief message about each poem under it. Just beware of opening any wrong doors as you enter to read…..

Cleve Museum of Art

Cleveland Museum of Art Egyptian Exhibit

 

Dancing with Mummies

Eva doesn’t want to put on her costume,
of witch, cat, or pink Power Ranger,
she wants to wrap up in the gauze of time,
in a mummy’s trappings,
and run through sand-drenched streets.

She wants to hop on the trolley near Wade,
and blend in, quietly assessing the onlookers,
who seek a haunted tour near Lakeview,
but she has plans to see dead of another sort.

She wants to jump off the rail as they do in the movies,
glide inside the Museum of Art as if in ballet shoes,
and move to the rhythm of passion and history.

Eva winds her way to the marble catacombs
of sarcophagus and statue,
lightly carrying herself on the chill breeze from
the hauntings of the ancients, risen before her.

She puts her arms out left and right, smiling,
as the mummies slowly step toward her in
the dark and empty room, taking her in
their arms

                          …and they dance.

Swaying, waltzing to the music of magic and fortune,
of sacrifice and power, their decaying faces alight again
with rebirth and hope, mobilizing her spirit.

Water of the Nile, green reeds of salvation,
scarabs rustling and blue funerary
carvings whirl by her entranced mind,
as if she’s time-slipped to Cairo.

She has no need for trick-or-treat, or bobbing for apples,
she’d rather laugh and drink and sing
with the priests and goddesses from thrones centuries ago,
eat olives and grapes instead of Smarties and Tootsie Rolls.

Eva closes her eyes and she twirls, her hair flying backwards,
spinning like a windmill, feeling her own energy, laughing
with the ghosts and monsters before her as they take turns
in a ballroom dance for her soul.

– Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, ©10/29/18

I love going to the Cleveland Museum of Art near Wade Circle in Cleveland, where people meander in the beautiful park, and there are trolley tours, with many tourists visiting the famous Lakeview Cemetery. Their motto of the museum “for all people” is very true as they are able to offer the whole of the museum (except very special seasonal exhibits) for FREE. We have learned so much about history and art both there. In fact, it was just designated as the second best in the United States. One of my favorite rooms there is the Egyptian exhibit and it was the inspiration for this poem.

 

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Howard Carter and his team, including Lord Carnavon, found King Tut’s tomb in 1922

 

King Tut’s Revenge

From the glass, from tomb,
                                           …he rises.

With layers of cloth loose-hanging,
dripping in gold, woken and ambivalent.
Hand over where his amulet protects,
he stumbles on ancient legs,
his bones dismantling.

Looking for Lord Carnavon’s ghost,
mouth falls wide with silent screams,
hands outstretched, reading walls
with no eyes, King Tut examines
his life defined.

His skeletal fingers scratch across
the surface of his golden casket,
where he once laid, identifiable
by artistic paint, regal in death.

But bound by revenge, seething
in pain for archaeologists’ desecration,
legs and arms and head chopped in two,
body parts scraped as is mud on a shoe.

Bat wings flutter as he lurches
in the tunnels, moving forward,
on broken limbs he seeks those alive
who disturb his peace, then flee like flies.

His jewels, his possessions, stolen
and sold, even his penis vanished
in dismemberment, with no clues.

His sinister mission is not for murderer,
whether accident, family, or rhino,
but for lost immortality,
                                           …for afterlife.

Banging into walls, bones shredding,
powder mixing with dust, groaning.
He raises his hands to the sky,
he’s lost his reincarnation hope
through Osiris.

He throws dirt from the cavernous
wall, and blows on it in mid-air,
creating a black soot to kill all.

He winds up the particles by hand,
curses in ancient Egyptian as a storm begins.
Creating a tornado of dark matter,
he shuffles with limp toward the entrance,
the living (undead) image of Aten.

– Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, ©10/30/18

I have always been entranced by the story of the Pharaohs, especially with the boy king, King Tutankhamun, born Prince Tutankhamen, and the many various rumors and stories of his life and the drama surrounding his tomb. Though I believe in historical research and preservation, certainly the desecration, horrible handling, and theft should have been avoided. What must King Tut have thought? I think he had every reason to curse those greedy fools…and maybe still has revenge to get still to this day.

******

A word of gratitude to my son Nassem, who while in college in D.C., was up late into the night with me discussing these poems – he’s always been one of my best and most candid first readers – and photos that might go with them.

And if you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading my poetry.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! mummy-smiley.png

Erin

P.S. Also, if you missed it, you can read my new short fiction story, “The Witch’s Cottage” over at the Ladies of Horror Flash Fiction Project for free.

P.S.S. If you want to support the artist, you can find more of my poetry in my dark poetry and short story collection, Breathe. Breathe., here on Amazon.

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Made by Women Giveaway – Happy October!

I know I have followers of all tastes on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! This promotion (and post) is for fans of horror, or honestly, more appropriately and importantly, fans of kick-butt women. Claire Holland published a book of poetry shortly after mine called I Am Not Your Final Girl, in which she wrote poems about final girls from slasher movies. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s the women in movies that make it to the end after an horrific ordeal and often earn retribution and find empowerment, much like the women fighting for so much today!! I really loved this collection!

Now, Claire is hosting a giveaway featuring my own dark poetry and short story collection, BREATHE. BREATHE., which also features strong women, Sara Tantlinger’s LOVE FOR SLAUGHTER, which takes a look at the horrors of love, and her own, I AM NOT YOUR FINAL GIRL.

You can read about the giveaway and see all that’s included, as in addition to our collections there are three movies as well (pictured below), by clicking over to the link to her blog, Razor Apple. As well, you can ENTER TO WIN on that post!

Click here—>

RAZOR APPLE BLOG – GIVEAWAY

Happy October 1. Let the games begin!

Erin

Made by Women Giveaway

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