Short Story Review: “The Palm Tree Bandit” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

This very short tale reflects the familial tales told within families about particular ancestors. A young girl is told this tale about her great-grandmother, “Yaya,” while getting her hair braided by her grandmother [or mother]. It comes across as a girl-power, folk tale.

Yaya lived in a village with a strong gender divide in what was allowed. Especially banned for women was the climbing and tapping of palm trees since palm tree sap is an intoxicant. Yaya felt less constrained by the rules and defied the ban in a toyful manner making the male leaders into fools. Slowly, the gender constraint slides away as others carry on the playful defiance throughout the village and on into neighboring ones.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Thanksgiving Gathering

This table –
      elongated and stretching
to the borders of the room,
      set with heavy silverware
and water goblets and plates
      centered with linen napkins in steel rings,

and circumnavigated
      by my older brother
who’s lost the thread
      of conversation in pursuit
of his son who has left
      two Dr. Seuss books on the butcher’s block

and popped
      each fat black olive
into his mouth as his father did
      30 years ago;
my brother who still
      favors Stovetop Stuffing,

Scrabble after the meal,
      and his left foot ever since last year’s
second round of chemotherapy
      (that Thanksgiving spent
in marrow transplant isolation,

and nervously eyeing dry erase numbers
      that vaunted his T-cell count),
and his wife who’s returned to baking:
      two pecan pies, a blueberry pie
and cheesecake, and who’s inherited
      the gravy station at the stove

from our grandmother –
      whose chair is not filled this year,
whose silent passing muted
      everyone’s focus on cancer,
whose marshmallowed yams
      are not here –

this oaken table gathers
      the candied cranberries and crabapple pickles,
the casseroles edging the vegetables,
      the family that gathers
to pieced and quilted conversations
      and to clasped hands.
[This poem was published by The Eunoia Review in April 2015.]
[Check out other original poems here.]

Original Poetry: Mermen

The game is to see who can stay submerged
the longest. More than breath-control, it involves
constantly propelling our underdeveloped buoyant
bodies downward. Our arms are outstretched
condor wings pushing upward. Our legs are half-
enfolded and helplessly dangling jellyfish tentacles.
We face each other in the dappled glow of the pool’s
washed-out blue and bait each other as only merman
can. Escaping bubbles leak out; my ears ring
with my breath-deprived heartbeat.
                                                                 I first
zip-sledded the previous summer. The boat circled
far and large with the board skimming behind
while I, bucked off, chattered in the cold, cold,
brown lake water. Feather-limbed lakemen circled
beneath, brushing my legs and fingering my ankles.
Kicking at them made them madder or meaner.
The distant boat didn’t hear me screaming, swallowing
the bitter fishy water.
                                        I know this feeling,
the one that makes me run from the top
of the stairs, down the dark hallway, past five
dark doorways to mine at the end. Whatever
is there is surprised by how quickly I can
turn on my bedroom light and scramble to the far
corner of my bed, nestled in the room’s corner
farthest from the door and closet. I hold my breath
until all is quiet in the house.

                                                  The game is
to stare at each other through the chlorine-
sting. He is two years younger and kicks off
the bottom. Thankful, I surface right behind.
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “The Perfection of the Steam-Powered Armour” by Adria Laycraft

4 of 5 stars.

The ideals of peace, especially pervasive in Eastern philosophy, naturally conflict with the Samurai culture and warmongering of many emperors.

In a steampunk version of East Asia, the pressure of a warmongering culture fissures the relationship between a father and his 10 y.o. son. Jin desperately wants to avoid conscription into the emperor’s army as he’s not a warrior. Nor does he want that future life for his son. Jin’s a tinkerer by trade and has struck a deal with a general whereby if he can make the perfect steam-powered battle armor which can turn any man into a warrior by turning a person’s natural flow of energy into deadly movements, then he and his family will be socially elevated to the class of society not drafted.

Failure in this bargain equals death.

When the he arrives, the general puts scrawny son Wen into the suit and forces him to fight his top warrior with Jin coaching from the sidelines. The suit is good, very good. But Wen doesn’t believe any form of violence is the solution, and stays his hand allowing the warrior to pummel him. The general gives Jin and Wen one day to retry the dual . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Corpsemouth” by John Langan

2 of 5 stars.

The pre-Christian lore of many cultures is rife with monsters and magic, curses and heroes. Such is the case with the Scottish Corpsemouth, a titan-like old god that eats bodies and souls of the living and dead, both mortal and immortal. One particular legend tells of a time when Merlin summoned the monster for a battle and then banished it again before it got out of hand . . .

After the death of his Scottish immigrant father, a young American man travels with his mother and sister back to his father’s hometown to find closure. The relationship between the man and his father was on the mend, but not fully healed.

This disjointed tale veers between the man’s fantastical dreams upon arriving in Scotland and his various interactions with his father’s family. The disparate dreams all seem informed by local lore and the unsettled paternal relationship.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Bloom”, “Children of the Fang”, “Outside the House, Watching for the Crows”, and “The Wide, Carnivorous Sky”



[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma

Fabulous BeastsFabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The darkest of family secrets: rape, incest, murder and betrayal coil and writhe beneath the skin in this dark novelette set among the seedier neighborhoods outside Liverpool. Two timelines entwine to show how ugly little Lola along with her pretty sister-cousin, Tallulah, escapes her horror-filled past to become scientifically-successful, if not still socially awkward Eliza on the arm of her beautiful, celebrity lover, Georgia. More than just her name was sloughed off to become the adult survivor that she is.

The violence and psychologically scarred upbringing ring with fear and quiet desperation.

The novella contains a fantastical, dysmorphic element not unusual with themes of abuse, gender dysphoria, or abnormal sexuality. Adult Eliza works as a herpetologist with a specialty in vipers. She embodies many elements of the snakes she loves to overcome her family secrets and to escape her past.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books.




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Absence of Words” by Swapna Kishore

4 of 5 stars.

Dysfunctional family relationships and dynamics can fester for years as a wedge splitting the generations. This tale leans into an allegorical interpretation of just such a scenario when three generations of women in one family struggle with anger issues that they tend to unleash upon each other.

Years earlier after a missed curfew, mother and daughter blew things out of proportion with unchecked emotion and nastiness. This was followed by the grandmother and mother having words, and then finally the granddaughter and grandmother having words. The grandmother has been electively mute ever since, or so the other two assume, each taking on a mantle of guilt.

However, the silence runs deeper than the grandmother not speaking. Whenever one or both of the younger women are in the presence of the grandmother, ALL sound ceases . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books.




[Check out my other reviews here.]