A Wrap-Up of the Books I Read in May 2021

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Cover of the book, The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard, showing the silhouette of Cabal holding a rose. Poor guy!

The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard

The witty dialogues, the unflappable protagonist, and the clever twisty ending — all hallmarks of what I’ve come to expect from a Johannes Cabal novel — were all there. I don’t know what else to say so more readers would read this series. Well, okay, so Cabal’s hired by the eponymous institute to travel to the heavily Lovecraftian Dreamlands and kill fear. He accepts the assignments for sneaky reasons that don’t align with the institute’s — but that’s Cabal for you. The resulting romp is fun and funny while also having a clever twist at the end.

Cover of the book, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, showing a wolf. Surprise!

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

Call me old-fashioned but I expect my short stories to have a beginning, middle, and an ending. While perusing the stories in this collection, I could see that the author can write. Her descriptions plop you down right in the middle of her stories. The characters, too, were quirky without being annoying. Most importantly, I can still recall the plots of several of the stories by just looking at their titles — that’s rare for me — and means that they left quite an impression. Now, if only they had also left me with satisfying conclusions, I’d have loved this anthology. I feel the same way I did about her previous short story collection as well, Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories.

In addition, I also think that while this style of writing works for short stories, it would start to get on my nerves were I reading a novel. So, it is safe for me to say I won’t enjoy Swamplandia. A lot of allegorical elements and strangeness. In any case, if you asked me, I’d say the titular story happens to be my favorite out of this bunch.

Cover of the book, Pages from the Pizza Crows by Evan Witmer. showing a crow in flight over a pizza place logo.

Pages from the Pizza Crows by Evan Witmer

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

First of all, I’m listing the names of all the stories within this weird anthology, so other reviewers won’t have to hunt for them the way I did:

  • Bedfellows
  • Belligamy
  • Captured by Animals
  • The Red Constellation
  • Young Adult Series Simulator
  • F1
  • Nine-Tenths an Ape
  • Lethe
  • The Bright Idea Room
  • Satan’s Spies

Secondly, I am going to rant about how neither the cover nor the book blurb on GR gives potential readers ANY clue about the awesomeness of this book!

Next, let’s look at the premise: a guy feeds a crow that brings him stories. He turns this into a sort of experiment in which he varies the components of the pizza to see how that’d affect the story. Isn’t that enough to make you start reading?

If it isn’t, that’s okay. Just read the first story and you’ll be hooked. I sure was! They get weirder and weirder towards the end, which was where I found my favorites. Weird fiction rules, what can I say?

My absolute favorite stories out of this bunch were F1, The Bright Idea Room, and Satan’s Spies. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the others. I was taken by the seeming randomness of events in Bedfellows and Young Adult Series Simulator. Belligamy, The Red Constellation, and Lethe won me over by being scary af. The remaining two, Captured by Animals & Nine-Tenths an Ape were just too funny and original not to like.

In the end, this book needs a better cover and an even better blurb that shows off how wonderful it is.

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The Graveyard Shift by Darynda Jones

The way Garrett and his love interest’s relationship starts is nothing short of a nightmare. Like I’ve done with most horrible events and going-ons in this series. I decided to ignore its implications and proceed with the rest of the story. And what did I discover? That I’d been right about the author’s loss of interest in everything Charley — except for treating her as the oven that spawned Beep. We get enough information from this novella about what is happening in Charley’s Beep’s world to rival the slow trickle that we don’t get out of two full-length Charley Davidson novels. I shit you not! Questions are raised and quickly answered at a speed that’s been hitherto un-read of. Some examples?

  • Can Beep dematerialize? Yes, she can.
  • Where’s Osh? Here, he is.
  • Are Charley and Reyes still around? Yep.
  • Can the parents who suck at parenting still occupy mortal bodies? Sure.
  • What happened to Cookie and Ubi? It’s in there.
  • Will Garrett and Marika get together? Duh.

And so on. Un. Be. Liev. Able!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Judi Lynn says:

    Sounds like you were in the mood for short stories. Pages From the Pizza Crows sounded really interesting! So did The Fear Institute. Good luck finding great books for June!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Midu Hadi says:

      Ended up choosing books with quite intriguing plots. Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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