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REVIEW: BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder

Step right up, if you dare…

I was provided an Advanced Release Copy (ARC) in return for an unbiased review.

I have a secret obsession with dark, disturbing, weird, and well-written anthologies. Crystal Lake Publishing has come out with a few of my favorites over the past few years, and BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is the latest favorite, following on from last year’s Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and their annual Tales from the Lake collections.

The Short Review:

Buy it. It’s amazing and editor Doug Murano did a marvelous job putting together the collection–which features amazing wordsmiths such as Clive Barker, Lucy A. Snyder, Neil Gaiman, Stephanie M. Wytovich, John Langan, Lisa Morton, Richard Thomas and many others. Oh, and a wonderful foreword from Josh Malerman that you really shouldn’t skip over. Five Stars.

The Longer Review:

Right from the gorgeous cover by artist John Coulthart, the reader is invited between the pages into a literary carnival of wonders and the grotesque.

Behold! is divided into three sections – Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders (as the title suggests). The choice of Lisa Morton’s LaRue’s Dime Museum kicks off the Oddities section. It is a delightfully different and weird “freak show” type tale that is both unexpected and fresh. Brian Kirk‘s Wildflower, Cactus, Rose was a tough story to read based on the subject matter—but was beautiful and spine-tingling at the same time. The Baker of Millepoix by Hal Bodner is the story that most resembles a painting—beautiful, colorful. Picturesque, even. Finally, Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament is a marvelously disturbing tales of guilt and horror intertwined with desire and love.

I was delighted at this point to discover that each section was separated by poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich. An Exhibition of Mother and Monsters is between ‘Oddities’ and ‘Curiosities’ and As a Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party dove tails into Lucy A Snyder’s Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies close out ‘Curiosities’ and kicks off ‘Undefinable Wonders’

Curiosities begins with John Langan‘s Madame Painte: For Sale–a buyer beware story of sorts with a delicious ending. Chivalry by Neil Gaiman is next and is a feel good story….of a sort. Gaiman always draws me into his world-creations. Fully Boarded by Ramsey Campbell is a story that will give even the most stalwart traveller pause. Amelia’s Wake by Erinn L Kemper is a dark story of grief and sadness. Her story really resonated with me after the death of my dad last year.

A Ware That Will Not Keep, is an anecdotal story told by a grandfather about the atrocities of WW II and John F.D. Taft tells a sympathetic tale that is both sympathetic and horrific.

Horror to me is taking the everyday and turning it onto itself. Was the creaking floorboard REALLY just the house settling? Ed Pruitt’s Smoker by Patrick Freivald takes bee keeping to a very different place and works so very well.

Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies by Lucy A. Snyder had me laughing to myself (as it was 3AM at the time, my wife found this disconcerting). If you have a unique take on humor, you will adore this one.

Undefinable Wonders begins with The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows was such a real-world story, that I think you might have to read this one for yourself to process it. A nice one by Brian Hodge.

The Wakeful is another one of those ‘every day’ stories that make horror so disturbing. I’m just glad I was inside when I read it. Kristi DeMeester is now on my ‘to read’ list.

Christopher Coake‘s strange story Knitter , while clever was so different from The Wakeful that it shocked me into a different place. It is very well written and presented—I may just have not switched gears fast enough.

I adore subtle anti-religion tales, and that’s what Sarah Read gives us with Through Gravel. Deliciously executed.

The collection ends with one of my favorite authors, Richard Thomas and his short entitled Hiraeth. Yes, I had to look it up, and I’m glad I did before reading. Hiraeth, loosely translated, means homesick—but so much more. There is a passion and a sorrow in the Welsh word that no English translation can capture. This story was beautiful and deep—and is perfectly named. There is hope here. Beauty and wonder as well. And there is the knowledge that our world is unknowable in its complexity.

BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder is a collection that you will read over and over. Pay the entry fee and discover the worlds within for yourself.

But take heed. Some of these stories may change you.