Review: ‘last year, when we were young’ by Andrew J McKiernan

Why yes, it is review time again. Today’s review is brought to you by me, with reading material supplied by Andrew J McKiernan. And I thank him for it. Now before I go on to explain how wonderful these stories are, it’s disclaimer time:

I’ve known Andrew for a good few years, and is part of the awesome Sydney SHADOWS – a mad crowd of Sydney writers who get together for lunch and drinks and shenanigans and drinks (Fat Yak! Ahem. As you were…)

Right then, with the disclaimer out of the way, it’s spoiler alert time…

READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK. MANAGEMENT IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR SPOILERS IF YOU READ PAST THIS POINT. SERIOUSLY, IF YOU READ PAST THIS POINT THEN BITCH ABOUT A SPOILER, I’LL WHACK YOU WITH THE BOOK.

I love short stories. I love writing them and I love reading them. Collections and anthologies are always a kind of crap shoot – you don’t know quite what you’re going to get, you just hope there’s at least a couple of gems inside. There’s an undeniable skill in being able to tell a complete story within a limited amount of words, and not everyone can do it. Andrew McKiernan is one of those writers who damn well can.

‘last year, when we were young’ is the first short story collection I’ve read this year, and it’s also McKiernan’s first short story collection. Put out through the Australian small press, Satalyte Publishing, this is a collection of extraordinary moments set mostly against the ordinary, where the everyday lives of everyday people, are thrust into the twisted and bizarre.

LastYearSample

The collection contains sixteen short stories, five of which I’d previously read (and proudly published one as co-editor of Midnight Echo, Issue 8 – ‘They Don’t Know That We Know What They Know’ – it’s a cracker of a tale, full of tortuous moments and killer mysticism). There are also two original stories in the collection, and they’re two of my favourites, but I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s start by talking about the writing.

There’s a beauty in the way McKiernan uses words, how he weaves patterns with those words to tell a story, and it’s apparent from the first tale. The Memory of Water is a story of loss, fear, regret and longing, and McKiernan grabs you as much with his wordsmithing as he does with the story itself: ‘The ocean as some intelligent mother from whom we had all crawled – finned and gilled, gasping for air – and for whom we still owed reverence.’   

It would take forever for me to go into each and every story within the collection, so I’m going to go with those that most struck a chord with me. Though it’s difficult to pick a favourite, when I sit back and think on the stories, it’s always ‘Last Year, When We Were Young’, to which my mind keeps returning. It’s one of the original stories, and also the last in the collection; it’s also what the cover art is based on (which is another of McKiernan’s artistic pieces).

This story messes with your mind, in a totally good way. It makes you think, and there’s not much better than a story that makes you sit back and reflect. I so want to divulge the wonder of this story, but this is one best enjoyed without any spoilers. It really is a beautifully sorrowful tale of love, friendship, hope and hopelessness.

Keeping with the religious piety, A Prayer For Lazarus will have you rethinking humanity, religion and what some will do for those they love – not all of which is good, mind. But hey, madness is its own religion, no? Told from a child’s perspective, and in a child’s voice, there’s innocence in the horror, and that juxtaposition is one of the things that sets this story apart.

bloody-cross

The Desert Song is another that resonated with me, and as with a number of McKiernan’s stories, there’s a base of organised religion pitted against the ‘pagan’ and ‘insurgent’ belief systems. Set after an indeterminate apocalypse, a town struggles against an uprising of the creepy that sends most to madness. Definitely one of my top five of the collection.

While I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, The Wanderer in the Darkness, sits firmly within the genre, and dragged me in from the beginning and ignited that wariness, that fear of what lays beyond the stars. And according to McKiernan, it’s some scary, scary shit. There are some very spooky Cthulhu overtones in the monsters he’s created, and that can only be a good thing, right? Right?

The last story I’m going to mention here is White Lines, White Crosses. We’ve all seen those memorials at the side of the road, marking the final spot a final breath was taken – dead or dying flowers and white crosses. McKiernan delves into the story, the legend behind the white crosses that dog a small Australian town. It’s a tough, no-pulled punches tale about the believed invincibility of youth and the truth of reality… two very different realities. It hits hard.

Not all of the stories grabbed me, mind. Calliope: A Steam Romance, left me feeling a little flat, which is odd, as I love steampunk, but… *shrugs*, it just wasn’t for me. But that’s just one story out of sixteen, and if that isn’t the mark of a great collection, I don’t know what is.

On a Goodreads scale, I give ‘last year, when we were young’, five stars.

five stars

Nightmare Art

 The world is but a canvas to our imagination. ~Henry David Thoreau

Woo hoo! It’s art time again! Not mine, because no one needs to be subjected to that, but the art of one who knows his stuff. And by stuff, I mean the things that live in the shadows, the monster under your bed.

Greg Chapman is one of those artists who likes to play in the darkness where monsters live. I first came across Greg’s work a few years back when he illustrated a comic – Allure of the Ancients (Midnight Echo) – written by a friend of mine, Mark Farrugia. I’d seen the comic in its short-story form, but it was one of those tales I knew would transfer mediums beautifully.

The success of such an undertaking falls on the artist, and the writer choosing the right artist for their work. Mark chose right. Allure of the Ancients is the story of Rahkh, a vampire (not one of those sparkly pieces of crap) who has been around since biblical times, and follows his journey through the ages.

It’s a fantastic story, and Greg brought Rahkh to life in spectacular fashion, so much so one of his prints sits on my wall (above one of my bookcases, no less – high praise indeed!). Rahkh is a powerful, blood-thirsty vampire who goes through people like I do chocolate – ravenous and not at all apologetic. Just as a vampire should be.

Rahkh by Greg Chapman
Rahkh by Greg Chapman

 

Greg covers all spectrums of the horror genre, from his famous Halloween jack-o-lanterns, to Poe, Stephen King, Nosferatu, zombies, and all manner of ghosts and ghouls. Every nightmare you can imagine, he can bring to life on a canvas. So much so, he didn’t win a Bram Stoker. Let me explain…

Greg illustrated the highly-acclaimed, Bram-Stoker winning graphic novel, Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, by Lisa Morton and Rocky Wood. The man knows his stuff, but it’s unfortunate that while the writers of the graphic novel received Stoker awards, Greg did not. Which shows me how underrated illustrators are in a medium that relies so damn heavily on art.

witch hunts

Like writers, illustrators aren’t paid anywhere near enough for what they do. It’s been that way through the ages, but that doesn’t make it right. Go into any home and you’ll see artwork on the walls, sure, mine’s a little darker in nature, but barren walls don’t a home make. And I’ve Greg to thank for adding some colour and personality to my walls.

I’ve also had a piece of Greg’s art accompany my short story ‘The Road’ in Midnight Echo #9. It’s a small piece of inner art, but it’s beautiful, matched perfectly, and gave the story that little extra to show the power of the words. Words Greg understands very well.

Persephone by Greg Chapman
Persephone by Greg Chapman

 

You see, Greg’s not only an illustrator, he writes as well. He currently has his debut story collection out: Vaudeville and Other Nightmares (Black Beacon Books), which is another book I need to add to my ‘to read’ pile (which grows ever mountainous). The cover art is all Greg’s, so not only do you get a tonne of great stories, you get awesome art as well.

Greg’s artwork is available for purchase here (he does tees and hoodies as well), and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with some art that will look amazing on your wall. Go on, bring the nightmares home. I dare you.

vaudeville

Review: ‘Bound’ by Alan Baxter

Yep, it’s review time again! Bound by Alan Baxter, is the tenth book I’ve sunk my teeth into this year, and that may not seem a lot to some, but when weighed against my work (which entails a tonne of reading) and my own writing, I’m doing pretty damn well.

So, in keeping with my reading of Aussie authors, Alan Baxter’s tome had crept its way to the top of my ‘to read’ pile. Now before we venture much further, this review comes with a disclaimer: Alan is a mate; we’re both part of a group of spec-fic writers (big up Sydney SHADOWS!) who get together as often as we can — but never often enough — to discuss all things writing and books and comics and life and stuff while we drink copious amounts of Fat Yak (but that’s a story for another day).

With the requisite disclaimer out of the way, now comes the requisite spoiler alert:

<insert Dalek voice here> DANGER! DANGER! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! DANGER! DANGER!

Bound is the first book in Baxter’s ‘Alex Caine’ trilogy, published through Harper Voyager. I’m familiar with Alan’s shorter works, so I was looking forward to reading one of his longer pieces. Bound introduces us to Alex Caine, an underground fighter (think MMA) with an uncanny ability to ‘read’ his opponents moves before they’re delivered. He does this via what he calls ‘shades’ (Magesign), and it’s made him top of his game. A usually solitary figure, Caine gets himself into some trouble from a local Sydney ‘gangsta’ (I’ve always wanted to write that word), and with the timely visit from an Englishman, Welby, who knows Alex’s secret, the adventure begins.

bound-cover-largeTo avoid the veritable shitstorm coming Caine’s way, he accepts Welby’s invitation to travel to London. This is the beginning of Caine’s globetrotting quest, and an introduction to a world and magic and “people” (Fey), he never knew existed. Caine is somewhat of a ‘savant’ when it comes to the magic he possesses, and the Fey-world into which he’s been thrust is hard and unforgiving.

Welby needs Caine to decipher an ancient book no one (Fey or Kind) have been able to unlock. From here, things go from bad to worse then worserer (yeah, I said it). The book ‘Uthentia’ holds the remnants of an ancient Fey-godling that wants nothing more than to return chaos to all worlds – human and Fey – and no matter how much Caine wants rid of the book, it’s hitched its trailer to him. Add in the shards of a magical stone (on which his quest balances), Caine is in some serious shit. He’s a conduit, one who’s trying to conquer the bad mojo for survival. Not just his, but that of the worlds.

Baxter’s tale is fast-paced, and the magic he’s created is interesting, and something of which I wanted to know more. He touches on the monsters of popular culture and myth alike, which, for me, only placed me more solidly in Baxter’s world. He also take the writer credo: ‘write what you know’, to heart here. A kung-fu instructor himself, he’s incorporated the fighting skills and lessons of his sifu to see Caine through his quest and internal battle with the magic that’s ‘bound’ itself to him, and you can see that in the believability of the fight scenes.

Caine isn’t alone in travels. A half-Fey, Silhouette, has taken a shine to him, and Caine falls hard and fast for her. I was a little worried Silhouette was the ‘requisite love interest’, but she holds her own, and doesn’t shy from who she is and what she needs to do to survive. Something she doesn’t hide from Caine either. Theirs is a complicated yet strikingly honest relationship (regardless of the secrets each needs to keep).

The two make a formidable force, as do the antagonists in this tale – (the fantastically tuckerised) Hood and Sparks. Nasty pieces of work, both. But well placed against Caine and Silhouette. There are shades of grey through all the characters, and that’s something I liked most about this tale.

blood spatterThere are sections of this story that those with weaker stomachs when it comes to fiction, might have trouble reading. If vivid violence, rough sex, and a shitload of swearing aren’t your cup of tea then this might not be the book for you. But creativity is meant to push boundaries, to take us places that make us wonder at what humanity really means. What’s that saying? ‘Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.’ Baxter does this well while providing a hell of a story to boot.

My only concern is that with such a fast-paced, action-packed first book, sustaining this through books two and three, and upping the ante, might make this a hard act to follow. I’m looking forward to the ride, though, I gotta say.

I’m a bit of a hard taskmaster when it comes to star ratings (you need to really earn a five star from me), and while it took me longer than I wanted to read Bound, it was more that I’m extremely time-poor, than a reflection on the story itself. I didn’t want to put this book down, and I hankered to get back to it (Baxter’s “monsters” are pretty damn awesome), but real life and a tonne of work has a habit of imposing itself on my leisurely pursuits.

So, on a Goodreads scale, I give Bound 5 stars.

five stars

Not Everyone Loves A Clown

They really don’t. And I’m one of those people. Some call it ‘Coulrophobia’, I call it common sense, the will to live. There’s something innately disturbing about clowns (in all their forms). They’re creepy as all hell, and pure horror fodder.

They’ve been well represented in the genre: ‘Pennywise’ from Stephen King’s IT; ‘Twisty the Clown’ from American Horror Story: Freak Show; hell, even the clown doll from Poltergeist gave me the heebie-jeebies. And is it any wonder? All it takes is a smudge of that makeup to have them look as inherently evil on the outside as they are on the inside. I mean, what lies behind the mask?

twisty the clown

So when Halloween came around this year, I thought it about time I wore the mask myself. As my daughter was Trick or Treating with friends (I didn’t cry, I swear), and my boy was Halloweening as a mercenary (casual clothes and an array of weapons – most underwhelming), it was up to me to carry the Halloween flag this year. I wasn’t going to let the side down; I was going all out, determined to bring at least one child to fearful tears (What? Everyone needs a hobby.)

The suburbs in my area have embraced Halloween quite spectacularly, and there’s a fantastic feeling of community as parents walk the streets with their little witches, skeletons, zombies and reapers. There’s been nothing quite like this since our government legislated against Guy Fawkes night in the late 1970s. Man, someone loses an eye, a couple of fingers and ruins it for everyone (this is why we can’t have nice things).

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So while there are those in Oz who boo-hoo Halloween (“Americanisation”, blatant consumerism, blah, blah, blah), for those of us in and around my neighbourhood, it’s fostered an even greater sense of community.

Except for clowns.

From the response to my Halloween “mask”, clowns are the sewer dwellers of the monster hierarchy – pariahs amongst the ghosts and ghouls of All Hallows Eve. Children stared, pointed, then veered very much away from me (not my own kid and his friends – these boys are a special kind of awesome), while parents voiced almost identical responses to the mask: “Everyone hates a clown.”

I asked a couple of parents why, wanting to know if their response mirrored mine, and most just pointed to the mask, “that’s why.” With ghosts and demons, witches and zombies, you know what you’re getting, what you’re up against. With clowns, you don’t know what lies behind the makeup – there’s no honesty in who and what they are, and it’s all hidden behind a too-wide smile.

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I found only one other clown wandering the streets… well, not quite wandering. I noticed him from a distance, deathly still, head cocked just so. Children crossed the street rather than approach. He played his part beautifully.

Clowns. I hate them. But they’re the perfect Halloween mask. Both parents and children have an automatic distrust of them. Even those in the circus (another pet hate), who are supposed to bring laughter and joy engender a sense of something not quite right, of unease, disquiet.

It’s what I brought to Halloween this year, if the faces of those I passed were anything to go by.

As for reducing a child to tears… Achievement unlocked.

Seb & Me

The Last Letter

 Tears are the silent language of grief ~Voltaire

I lost my grandmother four days ago. Just writing those words rips at my heart. I know she’s gone, but she can’t be. Not Grandma. She was ready to go; she told us so as kindly as she could. But never were we ready to let her go. Not Grandma.

The world, my world, my children’s world, is poorer for not having her in it. She would laugh at that, my grandma. Tell me I’m a wonderful child then tell me to stop being silly. Joan Mary Spedding never saw the greatness that she was. She was humble, wise, loving and kind. And she was stubborn, boy was she stubborn.

But she slipped away in the early morning hours last Sunday, ninety-five years young, leaving us but now reunited with my grandfather – the love of her life. Eric and Joan. Together again. And that mends my heart just a little.

Eric and Joan

I write this because the world needs to know what it’s lost, for it’s those who toil quietly who seem to pass into obscurity, and it’s those who should be remembered most, especially my grandmother.

She had two great loves, my grandma. Family and words. She was a writer, my grandma, a storyteller. Her last book, and her most prized, Ten Men of Resolution, was published when she was 89. There’s beauty and wisdom in words, courage and magic, she told me, and I know she was right.

My grandma wrote stories and poems, history and anecdotes, but it was her letters I most cherished. From my earliest memory I received them. Hand-written words on paper. Letters. And when my children were born, they too received letters – “all the way from New Zealand!” Each one addressed to them and opened with excitement at what was to be found inside. Sometimes it was a poem, other times a story, and always there was a newspaper clipping or two she thought the kids would find interesting. There was love in these letters, in each beautiful phrase, and lovingly formed word.

I wrote back often, but now I think never often enough. Grief does that. It brings with it guilt, and I can hear my grandma calling me silly, telling me I’m a wonderful child, but … grief. I treasured the moments I could sit down and put pen to paper, writing to my grandma of all that was happening here, what the kids were getting up to, how I missed her. We shared memories of the year when I was 19 and my grandfather had had a heart attack. I’d flown over to stay with her – just me and Grandma in her house, staying up ‘til all hours just talking. Of me climbing One Tree Hill in Auckland the ‘wrong way’ – oh, how she and Grandpa had laughed at me. Years later I told them I’d hitch-hiked back from the Hill to the hospital; my grandfather was livid, my grandmother smiled and said (in the English accent she never lost): “What an adventure! Just don’t tell your father.”

When I became a journalist she was proud; when I became a storyteller, she told me this was where my heart lay, and she was right. Grandma didn’t read horror, it wasn’t her thing, but she read every story I ever wrote. Even the ones I warned were explicit. She didn’t care. I wrote them, she’d read them.

She loved unconditionally, all of us. And we saw it in her letters. Letters I will no longer receive. Hand written notes of love my children will no longer receive. Letters.

I found my last letter from Grandma sitting on my bedside table. I’m sure I put it away with all my others. I know I did. But there it was. The last letter. The writing was a little more shaky, the words painstakingly written, but always, there was love. ‘My wordsmith’ she called me, ‘there is always magic in what you do, creating worlds from imagination is a gift, don’t waste it. But remember the greatest magic you have ever created is your children. Magic. Wonder. Love. Kindness. Take that with you wherever you go.”

But the magic is dulled, the wonder floundering, the love is aching and the kindness hard to fathom. My grandma… Grief. It clouds it all. But I know she’s not truly gone, for I see her in the sweet nature of my children, hear her in the words she passed to my father – those same words he passed to me, and I, in turn, to my children. “Nothing is fair in this world. If you know this, really know this, when life knocks you down, and it will, you can pick yourself up and go on. Stronger because of it. Kinder because of it.”

I know this, I really know this. Nothing is fair in this world, because it took from us one of the most remarkable women I know. Am I stronger because of it? I’m too deep in tears to know. Am I kinder? I hope to be. For my grandma, I hope to be.

Joan Mary Spedding… Grandma, though your flame burned bright, the world is darker now you’re gone.

Me and Grandma

Don’t Colour Me Pink

It’s been a particularly crappy couple of weeks when it comes to the gender divide, and people getting their hate on for feminism (yeah, I’m gonna poke that bear again). But it was while out shopping with my daughter yesterday, that the ire in both of us was roused. Why? Because of the colour pink.

I’ve never been a fan of the colour (although I do have a pale-pink skull cap I adore), and that dislike has only deepened over the years as its use as a marketing ploy to lure half the species. It basically equates to: female bits = love of all things pink.

Yeah… no. When I see aisles of pink in the toy section, it pisses me off. As parents, are we too stupid to know which toy our child will like unless it’s painted a particular colour? Will my daughter or nieces not play with Lego unless it’s pink? Will they not pick up a Nerf gun or crossbow unless it’s pinked-up with ‘Rebelle’? (Why not Rebel?) Is that blue truck not for them?

So prevalent is this gender-marketing, my daughter refuses to buy into its blatant bias. But yesterday, it reached a new low. We were out shopping when she stormed over to me, anger etched clearly on her face, and I wondered what had garnered her ire. She dragged me over to the ‘girls’ clothing section and pointed out a t-shirt. “What the hell is this?”

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“Wrong is what it is,” I told her, my ire matching hers. My daughter loves to read, she loves books and she loves comics, and she’s just been told by company marketers that if she’s a girl, the only way she can like superheroes is if they’re pink.

Am I jumping to conclusions? No. Because she then took me to the ‘boys’ section and showed me this:

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Superheroes as they’re depicted in the comic books.

“Why’d they pink it up?” she asked. “They don’t even look right. Am I supposed to like it more because it’s pink and I’m a girl?”

Honesty was all I could give her. “That’s what some people think, yes.”

“People are idiots,” she said. “I’m not buying that. No one should buy that.”

She’s smart my daughter. Strong and opinionated. She won’t be swayed by the stupid pink marketers put on merchandise, and she’ll speak up when she sees how wrong that is. But most of society is conditioned to ‘girl = pink’ and ‘boy = blue’, and what happens to those kids who identify to so-called opposing gender colours? You see it’s more than just an ‘identifier’, it’s a separator. Girls here, boys there. These are for them, not for you. And just to make it easy, let’s colour-code the crap out of it. Are you pretty in pink? Or dark and tough?

It’s this gender divide that begins at birth (or even pre-birth for those who discover the gender of their child), and is reinforced via gender-stereotyping of toys and clothes, and infused with colour. It’s something my husband and I never bought into, and something we explained to both our daughter and our son – colour, like everything else, has nothing to do with gender. You like what you like. If the marketers have done one thing though, they’ve shown me and my daughter that we don’t like being coloured pink.

And for those of you who want to know how to pick a toy for a child? Here’s a simple flow chart:

gender toys

Review: ‘Davey Ribbon’ by Matthew Tait

Woo hoo! It’s review time again! I’ve been going strong with my reading of Aussie writers this year, and Matthew Tait is the next Australian author whose work I’ve had the pleasure of reading. As mentioned in previous reviews, the Australian spec fic community is a close-knit one – the horror community, more so. Yep, you guessed it, this review comes with a disclaimer. I know Matt quite well, you could even say we’re buds. We have a mutual love of Clive Barker, and horror as a whole. I’ve never worked with Matt on any of his projects, so when I purchased Davey Ribbon, it was as a reader (and to support the work of Aussie writers, of course).

Alrighty, with the disclaimer out of the way, the next order of business is the spoiler alert:

SPOILERS ABOUND WITH ABOUNDING ABOUNDEDNESS – DON’T BLAME ME IF YOU READ ON AND HAVE AN ‘AWW, SHE SPOILED THE STORY WITH ABOUNDING SPOILERS OF ABOUNDEDNESS!’

davey ribbon

 

Davey Ribbon (released through HodgePodge Press) is the first of Matthew Tait’s work I’ve read, and if this is the mettle of what he has to offer, then I will fast be rectifying this fact.

Let’s begin with the cover art – yes, I know the old adage ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ but as someone who works both sides of the desk, aah, yeah, I do (if you’ve got crap cover art, I’m gonna assume—rightly or wrongly—the words inside aren’t going to be much better). No problem here with Davey Ribbon; the cover art is as hauntingly eerie as it is beautiful.

The story begins in the past, 1969 to be exact, where Angus Fisher has stumbled upon the murder of a child – Sarah Capeshaw – in the middle of the forest surrounding Cyclone Cove. Angus is in dire straits; the murderer, Reginald Avery, won’t have any witnesses to his crime. As Angus begs, reasons, yells for his survival, in strolls Davey Ribbon, a child-savant with a love of ribbons (which trail behind him wherever he goes).

Things go from bad to worse, and while I won’t spoil this scene (it really does deserve to be spoiler free), it’s this dark past that will come back to bite Cyclone Cove and its residents on the arse.

Fast forward to the present day, and Davey Ribbon has become the stuff of urban legend, but there are those within Cyclone Cove who will not let the past die. Cyclone Cove is reminiscent of many a small town with secrets (think Stephen King’s ‘Derry’, from IT), and when you add in a huge conglomerate that has come to the Cyclone Cove as its “saviour”, things aren’t going to end pretty.

We’re slowly introduced to those townfolk who will become major players in the story’s finale, and Tait does well to weave the many characters within the story, although there were, at times (about midway through), where I began to wonder whether I could keep the characters straight in my head. With the twins (Beatrice and Michelle), their religious-nutter mother (Patty), their babysitter (Miriam), the head of the cult-conglomerate (Samara) and her boy-toy (Nathan), the town’s recluse (Norman Perks), renowned musician (Jerry), returned resident (Sean), town cop (Bill), Samara’s acolytes, pub owner… and those characters from the past.

It’s a big character list, but this is a small town, and there are a lot of things at play behind the scenes and from the past that sit like a volcano beneath Cyclone Cove. It’s not a matter of will the eruption occur, but when.

DAVEY005

This is a story of secrets – everyone has them – and the biggest secret of all is Davey Ribbon. As with any urban legend, it differs in its telling, growing more macabre. Tait works the legend and the secrets well, giving the reader a little more then a little more as the story slowly unravels (and the townsfolk with it).

The crux of this story revolves around the book’s namesake – Davey Ribbon – who begins to show himself to those who have been chosen to fight the big fight. But Davey isn’t the only one behind the scenes pulling the strings. While Samara Reagan and Norman Perks are working overtime and double-shifts to bring Davey into the now (each with differing agendas), there are those within Cyclone Cove who are the puppets for the puppeteers. Each of the players in this finale have only pieces of the puzzle, as does the reader, and I enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on as the characters’ did.

From about midway, though, I began to wonder when Angus Fisher would make a reappearance – Tait does well with his misdirection, and when all is revealed, I was able to look back and see the clues – whether other readers will see it before I did, I’m not sure; if they don’t, will they feel cheated with the misdirection? I can’t say.

The ending of the story was brutal, bloody, and over a little too cleanly. I like messy endings – I don’t mean blood and gore (although huzzah on that point), but rather I don’t want to have all the answers. Tait doesn’t give us everything, and if I have one misgiving about the telling of this tale, it’s the chapter where the survivors – those who truly know what happened that fateful day – get together to try and figure out what exactly happened and why. Personally, as a reader, I’d rather ruminate on that myself. I was given enough within the confines of the story and the ending to make those connections.

All in all, this was a strong story with a great premise that was delivered in an engaging and sinister way. It isn’t shy in its brutality, and it doesn’t hold back when tackling themes some find disturbing. A special mention goes out to the editor of HodgePodge Press – this was one of the cleanest reads I’ve had in a while, thank you!

On a Goodreads scale, I give Davey Ribbon 4.5/5 stars.

Four and half stars

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