Worth a Read? Absolutely yes!
"A volume of sad/strange/silly stories featuring weirdos and sweethearts, immobile birds and neglectful planets, all flavoured with a loving dash of death."
I will preface this review by saying, I'm initially very skeptical of any and all self-published works. There's a tendency for authors to try doing everything without the experience necessary to completely succeed. I always expect flawed editing, poor design, and printing errors from even the most diligent people.
So imagine my surprise to hold this near-perfect book in my hands. It's a very thin book at 54 pages in length, but every last story is tidy, articulate, and surprisingly meaningful. There are a total of 8 short stories ranging from the gory "Bookworms" to the more psychologically heartbreaking "Lighthouse."
Taken together, as the title suggests, each story offers a newfangled death without, oddly enough, being too gruesome - though I feel "Bookworms" pushes that envelope almost wide open, it doesn't do so with overwrought gory description. In fact, most of the stories in this book have a surreal serenity in tackling a topic most people would wince away from.
As far as horror goes, none of the stories outright made me cringe, but a couple gave me chills...and some made me giggle. Achoy's style of expression makes these, for the most part, quirky interpretations of death unravel in ways you might not see coming. Every story is, as the synopsis suggests, "flavoured with a loving dash of death," which, instead of being horrifying, gives each its own charm.
Without spoiling too much of these little gems, here are my thoughts on each.
Bad Mother: A good story to start with since it quickly lets you know that you're in for an unconventional ride with this book. It's one of the shorter stories, but the perspective isn't one you'll read about often.
Bunkbirds: It follows the titular species—a stationary bird living on an isolated island - and their run-in with something new. It's a strangely fun tale that won't go where you think it will. If you're like me, you'll have to suspend your desire to figure out the biology of Bunkbirds, but otherwise it's a weird adventure that plays on the natural cycle of life and death.
Lighthouse: This one is filled with Achoy's telltale description—subtle, quirky, yet somehow still relatable. It's about an elderly lady on her birthday and the routine therein, so I wondered what it was doing among a collection of horror stories. Then it ends up being the most terrifying out of the bunch for me. The tone is slightly more mundane than the others, but this allows the horror to creep up like a ninja and break your heart.
Gemini: A story about a child discovering something about her twin and, while it's weaker than the other stories, it still provides an interesting glimpse into the human psyche. It's also the only one I wish had been fleshed out a little more.
The New Angel: While short (just barely two pages), it's a funny little interlude about an angel looking down on Earth. Not quite what most people would expect angels to be doing in heaven.
Bookworms: This could have gone many ways and, being from the first-person perspective, gives a whole new meaning to being into books.
Autobiography of a Mayfly: This one you just need to read.
The Statuary: The last story involves a girl and statues which ends up offering the most serene story of the lot. I can’t help feel this story is more about life than death, but maybe that was the point.
The placement of the stories creates a stimulating pacing...if I would have bothered to slow down the first time instead of devouring each one. I couldn't stop turning the pages. On a second and third read-through, I noticed the author's choices. Stories with a heavier tone, even more description, are set between lighter tales with quirky punchlines ending with a story I found more uplifting than the rest.
This is the review of the trade paperback edition, self-published by the author in 2012 [there’s no ISBN].
What makes this self-published gem even more precious is its design. The cover is made by the author himself in a quirky, but very befitting, style for the writing within. My only criticism is that the cover is glossy, and, because it's mostly black in colour, you see every single fingerprint and smudge. The interior is well thought out to convey and showcase each story clearly. There are a couple of inconsistencies at the mechanical level (a few odd quotation mark placements), but nothing that stands out more than the half-dozen typos I see in traditionally-published novels.
Usually, I wouldn't abide double-spacing a text, but it works with these short, poignant stories. There's ample white space on top of that—he's spared no expense in allowing half blank pages to keep each story separate—and there's no attempt to alter the leading or change the font sizes to cram as much text on each page. The paper is bright white though and this would normally tire the eye, but the stories are short enough where I didn’t find it to be a problem. The headings and page count are both clear and distinct from the text without being distracting.
Overall, it's a meticulously assembled little book and it's not often you see something so well put together by a single pair of eyes.
The biggest drawback to all of this? I want more! In the range of self-published, and even traditionally published works, I highly recommend this for a short, unique read if you don't mind a few chills.
For less than $1.50 (CAD) in eBook format, you can give this little treasure a look and savour the variety of well-structured horror stories within. If you're like me and prefer physical copies, you can still find the paperback on Lulu.com for $6.14 (CAD)!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics, and/or products that are mentioned herein.