(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight
By Cat Rambo
Paper Golem / ISBN: 978-0-97963-494-2
So before I even begin to say anything about genre veteran Cat Rambo's new book, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, let's first plainly acknowledge two facts about it that play into my particular biases as a critic: first, that it's a story collection, which as regular readers know I don't care that much for (I feel that short stories generally lack the gravitas and opportunity for development that come with full-length books); and second, the particular genre Rambo works in is fantasy, and I'm not much of a fantasy fan either (mostly because of the overwritten, contraction-free, ponderously purplish prose that inevitably always seems to come with such stories).
But I do have a standing promise here to at least give an overview of any book that a person takes the trouble to send me (with some exceptions, of course -- see CCLaP's submission policy for more); and so when it comes to this, I can at least say that Moonlight is easy on the eyes and not difficult at all to make one's way through, and even in fact contains a host of different kinds of fantasy writing -- overly serious Grand Mythology Tolkien-style stuff, light and humorous Pratchett-style work, even contemporary alt-reality New-Weird-type tales. But as far as doing a critical analysis of this work, I'm afraid this is one of those times when I'm simply going to have to recuse myself, in that I literally don't know enough about the short fantasy format to begin with to make a fair qualitative judgement about any particular piece of it. I will leave it up to bigger fantasy fans than myself to give you an actual opinion of this book (which of course I highly encourage you to do in the comments below), but I did at least want to make you aware of its existence, since Cat was nice enough to send me a copy in the first place.
Out of 10: N/A
By Elva Maxine Beach
New Belleville Press / ISBN: 978-0-97898-921-7
As regular readers know, I'm a fan of dark erotic tales, although plainly admit that such stories are for a select audience only; and this is especially true when it comes to autobiographical tales about dysfunctional sexuality, where the charm explicitly lies in deeply erotic stories concerning the narrator engaging in comically self-destructive behavior. And that brings us to Elva Maxine Beach's Neurotica, which for sure earns its title: it's essentially a memoir of an overly sexed middle-ager around the Austin, Texas area (of course), who has a bad habit of picking men who are absolutely horrible for her, despite the hot kinky sex she ends up having with nearly all of them. And as such, then, the book is a nice combination of comedy and drama, with stories that have the ability to make you simultaneously laugh and cringe, just as a book like this should do -- my favorites anecdotes, for example, included the "White Power" S&M dom who our hero didn't realize at first was a white supremacist, and who keeps getting the details of his ridiculously elaborate personal mythology wrong ("'I'm a lone wolf,' he says...I want to tell him [that his] tattoo is actually a coyote, not a wolf"); and of course the financially-challenged narrator's ill-fated attempt to be a "sugarbaby" for a stripclub-owning McMillionaire (easily the best story in the book), who owns all the surface-level trappings of the rich (a Hummer, a yacht) but whose white-trash personality peeks through with every detail (plastic furniture, a fridge full of Bud Lite, nothing in the cupboards but Wonder bread and American cheese).
Now, that said, please be aware that this book deals with some pretty serious issues as well, not the least of which is how the narrator's rape experience earlier in life has affected her MILFesque behavior in her forties; but that of course is a big reason that fans of these types of stories are fans in the first place, for the highly realistic and complex way that such authors tackle the entire subject of sexuality, not shying away from the dark areas that so heavily inform the fun stuff that happens in the lighter moments. As mentioned, stories like these are for sure not for everyone, and in fact this book is probably not even for most people out there; but if you're a fan of confused yet sincere sexually aggressive middle-agers, trying vainly to work out their trainwreck lives while still having lots and lots of dirty adventures along the way, you will absolutely want to pick up Neurotica whenever you have a chance.
Out of 10: 8.3, or 9.3 for fans of dark erotica
By Curtis Smith
Press 53 / ISBN: 978-0-98244-165-7
As I've mentioned here many times before, I'm not much of a fan of story collections, and in fact don't particularly care for short fiction in general, mostly because of the wispy nature of the format to begin with; it seems in fact like every time I finally reach the point of getting emotionally invested in a short story, that's precisely when that short story ends, sending me zooming along to the next one without the previous one making any kind of lasting impression on me whatsoever. And that's what makes Curtis Smith's new story collection Bad Monkey problematic in my eyes, because although there's nothing specifically bad about it whatsoever, to me it seemed no different than any other collection of stories by some B-minus creative-writing student out at some midwestern college campus or nighttime community writing workshop -- you know, plaintive tales of noble hillbillies, Cheeveresque nightmares about the Big Bad Suburbs, the kind of stuff you just see over and over and over again in the endless amount of online literary journals that now exist. Like I said, none of it is bad for what it is, and people who naturally like these kinds of stories are bound to like this collection as well; I just question whether the world needs its officially one-millionth collection of unremarkable short fiction, or whether Smith's time would've been better spent working on a longer project with a much more unique idea at its core. Now that he's proven that he can write just as well as anyone else, I would highly encourage him to take the next step, and prove that he can write better than most others; that's the way to really make a mark in the literary world.
Out of 10: 7.3, or 8.3 for lovers of short fiction