Outlandish Lit

Scratch by Steve Himmer :: Review

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Outlandish Lit's Scratch by Steve Himmer ReviewScratch by Steve Himmer
Publisher: Dark House Press. October 11, 2016.
Pages: 200
Genre: Literary?? Supernatural mystery??
Source: Publisher



Martin Blaskett moves to a small town to oversee construction of a housing development, where he encounters a shape-shifting figure from local legend—Scratch. He is taken under the wing of his new neighbor, a retired hunting guide named Gil Rose, and befriends a local woman named Alison. Along the way, trouble ensues as Scratch feels threatened by changes to the landscape, luring locals out into the woods, including Alison’s son. As the blame for a range of events falls at Martin’s feet, he is beset by increasingly inhuman dreams, and comes to doubt his own innocence. A literary novel of wilderness noir that engages the supernatural elements of folklore in the manner of magical realism, Scratch explores the overlapping layers of history, ecology, and storytelling that make up a place. -Goodreads

Scratch had just about everything I want in a book. A forest with more going on in it than we know? Check. Mysterious disappearances? Check. Weird animal stuff? Check. A formless shapeshifting narrator who puts our main character in harm's way for the sake of the story he wants to create? Ok, maybe I didn't explicitly want that, but I got it. Scratch's concept is pretty brilliant. A shapeshifter (named Scratch) has lived in a forest in the middle of nowhere since...forever, basically. At first he didn't have a form at all, but then he tried turning himself into animals to live like them and, hey, it worked! Scratch is both a protector and a mischief maker, and we get the opportunity to hear this story from his point of view. This novel gives a whole lot of credit to animals, nature, and dreams, which I love.

"We found something," she says. "In the first hole."
"Found what?"
"Bones, Mr. Blaskett. We just started digging, and the ground's full of bones."

Martin, the main character, is a hapless man who doesn't have a lot going on in his life apart from his house constructing/real estate career. He decides to build a collection of homes in a very small town and in the back of his head he has the idea that he will move there and get away from the city too. He interacts with very few people other than Gil, the hunter across the road who is a delight, and Alison, the woman he's hired to oversee the construction of the houses. One day, he follows a fox into the forest and he can't seem to stop himself. He gets horribly lost and ends up sleeping in the woods, only to be awoken by a bear attacking him. That's where it all begins. The animals acting strangely, the surreal dreams Martin has about the wild, and people in the town beginning to disappear. Martin is somehow connected to all of it, and of course Scratch, the local legend, has something to do with it.

This book is only very slightly creepy. It was slow going at some points, and we spend perhaps too much time in Martin's head thinking about his past (living with a neglectful single mother) and the borderline stereotypical issues that past brings up. I wouldn't have minded had the book gotten a little bit weirder than it did, but that's obviously just a personal preference. I really enjoyed the concept and the idea of the ending, but it lacked a little in execution and consequence. There was nothing bad about this book, but the plot could have packed a little more of a punch for where the characters all end up.

I didn't begin as one of your own who was cursed--I was in these woods without form before the first warm-blooded body appeared. I was here before your kind arrived, before any kind arrived, because you needed me here to become what you are. You needed a reason to raise up the walls you hoped would keep me out, and to invent the electric lights and alarms that allow you to sleep through the night. Without me to spur your inventions, what would your kind have become? What would your languages be without the need to give your fear names?

3 Books With Monsters From Folklore #WickedGoodReads

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

3 Books With Monsters From Folklore #WickedGoodReads :: Outlandish Lit

October is #WickedGoodReads Month here at Outlandish Lit and GXO. This week, we’re focusing on books with Dangerous Creatures. Today's topic: books with monsters from folklore (see the full list of discussion topics here).

3 Books With Monsters From Folklore #WickedGoodReads :: Outlandish Lit


Starting off this list with some more comics. Moonshot is a collection of short comics by many different Native American creators. Even though they don't all feature monsters, they're super beautiful and interesting and important. And the ones that are about monsters from folklore are SO CREEPY. They just got funding on Kickstarter for a second volume, so look out for that!!

MOONSHOT brings together dozens of creators from across North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling. From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work in North America. The traditional stories presented in the book are with the permission from the elders in their respective communities, making this a truly genuine, never-before-seen publication. MOONSHOT is an incredible collection.


This is a perfect pick for this topic. All of the short stories in this collection are super strange, and most of them have some sort of monster or demon from Japanese folklore. I'm going to go ahead and say the stories that do are the best ones. Godzilla (and other kaiju), long necked demons, horrifying shapeshifting beings, etc.

“The Return to Monsterland” opens 'Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone,' a collection of twelve fabulist and genre-bending stories inspired by Japanese folklore, historical events, and pop culture. In “Rokurokubi”, a man who has the demonic ability to stretch his neck to incredible lengths tries to save a marriage built on secrets. The recently dead find their footing in “The Inn of the Dead’s Orientation for Being a Japanese Ghost”. In “Girl Zero”, a couple navigates the complexities of reviving their deceased daughter via the help of a shapeshifter.


I'm OBSESSED with selkies. I watched The Secret of Roan Inish at a very young age and it was a formative experience. I haven't read this one, but apparently it's wacky and sad and dark and beautiful af. One review said you'll like this if you liked the last episode of Twin Peaks. So I guess I'll like it? It's hard to say.

Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic - the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells - and brings forth girls from the sea - girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness - the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen.

What are your favorite books with monsters from folklore?

That's it for #wickedgoodreads posts this week, because I have a lot of good stuff coming up for you all this week - plus Readathon on Saturday! But I'll be back Monday with scary graphic novels/comics!

3 BeWITCHing Reads - Get It? #WickedGoodReads

Monday, October 17, 2016

3 BeWITCHing Reads - Get It? #WickedGoodReads :: Outlandish Lit

October is #WickedGoodReads Month here at Outlandish Lit and GXO. This week, we’re focusing on books with Dangerous Creatures. Today's topic: books about witches (see the full list of discussion topics here). I haven't read very many at all, but now I'm trying to correct that! Basically I just want The VVitch (amazing horror movie) to be in book form and then I'll be happy.

3 BeWITCHing Reads - Get It? #WickedGoodReads :: Outlandish Lit


The art and color in this comic are SO BEAUTIFUL. It's not horrifying, but it's definitely creepy. If you want an original take on witches, this is definitely one.

Everything you thought you knew about witches is wrong. They are much darker, and they are much more horrifying. Wytches takes the mythology of witches to a far creepier, bone-chilling place than readers have dared venture before. When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, NH to escape a haunting trauma, they're hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient...and hungry.


I've only just started this one, but the writing is SO GOOD. This book about witches was written in the 20s by a woman, which is badass. About a "spinster" who opts to become a witch instead of getting married.

In Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner tells of an aging spinster's struggle to break way from her controlling family—a classic story that she treats with cool feminist intelligence, while adding a dimension of the supernatural and strange. Warner is one of the outstanding and indispensable mavericks of twentieth-century literature, a writer to set beside Djuna Barnes and Jane Bowles, with a subversive genius that anticipates the fantastic flights of such contemporaries as Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.


I'm going to be very real - I'm trying this book again right now, but I bailed on it the first time. The writing about technology and the internet is SO cringey. And how the teenagers talk is utter nonsense. But I really really love the idea of this witch, so I'm giving it another shot.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters your homes at will. She stands next to your bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened.

What are your favorite books about witches?

Tomorrow's topic is Books With Monsters From Folklore - see you there!

4 Books That Make The Woods A Terrifying Place #WickedGoodReads

Thursday, October 13, 2016

3 Favorite International Horror & Weird Books #WickedGoodReads

October is #WickedGoodReads Month here at Outlandish Lit and GXO. This week, we’re focusing on books with Dangerous Places. I tried to narrow it down to 3, but I have 4 scary books set in the woods that I love. (see the full list of discussion topics here).


In this horror novel, a hiking/camping trip in Sweden goes horribly wrong when a short cut is taken. NEVER TAKE SHORT CUTS. If you liked The Blair Witch Project, you'll like this. It was actually horrifying. Do not read while camping.

Four old university friends reunite for a hiking trip in the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle. No longer young men, they have little left in common and tensions rise as they struggle to connect. Frustrated and tired they take a shortcut that turns their hike into a nightmare that could cost them their lives.

Lost, hungry and surrounded by forest untouched for millennia, they stumble across an isolated old house. Inside, they find the macabre remains of old rites and pagan sacrifices; ancient artefacts and unidentifiable bones. A place of dark ritual and home to a bestial presence that is still present in the ancient forest, and now they’re the prey.


Nothing makes sense in Area X. There's a border nobody can see. Fungus grows in the shape of words. There are strange creatures. Maybe people turn into animals? Doppelgangers? Psychosis? It's so weird and tense, and the wilderness is as much a character as anybody else.
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.


This book is definitely more focused on the horror of the "bioengineered nightmare" referenced below (I won't spoil it) and the tensions that appear between these stranded scouts. But it is set in a forest on an island that leaves them all stuck with each other and with someone infected. THIS BOOK IS SO GROSS.

Once a year, scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a three-day camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story and a roaring bonfire. But when an unexpected intruder—shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—stumbles upon their campsite, Tim and the boys are exposed to something far more frightening than any tale of terror. The human carrier of a bioengineered nightmare. An inexplicable horror that spreads faster than fear. A harrowing struggle for survival that will pit the troop against the elements, the infected...and one another.


A high school is all of a sudden transported to some whole other, slightly magical world that nobody can make heads or tails of. The woods surrounding the high school is filled with monsters and mystery. It's a whooooole other world out there in the forest. It is just my type of weird. There's a hint at maybe aliens or at least something Ancient Aliens-y?? It's like The Breakfast Club, but with more angry monsters. If you're interested in comics, check this out!

On October 16, 2013, 437 students, 52 teachers, and 24 additional staff from Bay Point Preparatory High School in suburban Milwaukee, WI vanished without a trace. Countless light years away, far outside the bounds of the charted universe, 513 people find themselves in the middle of an ancient, primordial wilderness. Where are they? Why are they there? The answers will prove stranger than anyone could possibly imagine.

What are your favorite scary stories set in the woods?

The next #WickedGoodReads topic I'll be getting in on is on Monday - Witches!!

3 Favorite International Horror & Weird Books #WickedGoodReads

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

3 Favorite International Horror & Weird Books #WickedGoodReads

October is #WickedGoodReads Month here at Outlandish Lit and GXO. This week, we’re focusing on books with Dangerous Places. I've been looking forward to this topic - International Horror & Weird Books (see the full list of discussion topics here).

3 Favorite International Horror & Weird Books #WickedGoodReads


These horror stories are all interconnected and they are SUCH a delight to read. Creepy, dark, and murder-y. And, bonus: They are pretty distinctly Japanese.

An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Meanwhile, a surgeon’s lover vows to kill him if he does not leave his wife. Before she can follow-through on her crime of passion, though, the surgeon will cross paths with another remarkable woman, a cabaret singer whose heart beats delicately outside of her body. But when the surgeon promises to repair her condition, he sparks the jealousy of another man who would like to preserve the heart in a custom tailored bag. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in a darkly beautiful web that they are each powerless to escape.


This is one of my favorite short story collections EVER. Not necessarily horror, but definitely weird. Karin Tidbeck wrote them in Swedish then translated them herself into English, which is pretty impressive. Read more about how much I love this strange, unsettling, and very Scandinavian collection here.

Enter the strange and wonderful world of Swedish sensation Karin Tidbeck with this feast of darkly fantastical stories. Whether through the falsified historical record of the uniquely weird Swedish creature known as the “Pyret” or the title story, “Jagannath,” about a biological ark in the far future, Tidbeck’s unique imagination will enthrall, amuse, and unsettle you. How else to describe a collection that includes “Cloudberry Jam,” a story that opens with the line “I made you in a tin can”? Marvels, quirky character studies, and outright surreal monstrosities await you in what is likely to be one of the most talked-about short story collections of the year.


This novella was translated from Korean to English and is being praised by Han Kang (author of The Vegetarian). And, I'm going to be real, I think it's better. With creepy magical realism abound, this novella about shadows detaching themselves from their humans had me completely hooked. I kind of want everyone to read this.

An oblique, hard-edged novel tinged with offbeat fantasy, One Hundred Shadows is set in a slum electronics market in central Seoul – an area earmarked for demolition in a city better known for its shiny skyscrapers and slick pop videos. Here, the awkward, tentative relationship between Eungyo and Mujae, who both dropped out of formal education to work as repair-shop assistants, is made yet more uncertain by their economic circumstances, while their matter-of-fact discussion of a strange recent development – the shadows of the slum’s inhabitants have started to ‘rise’ – leaves the reader to make up their own mind as to the nature of this shape-shifting tale.

What are your favorite international horror & weird reads?

Tomorrow's topic is Books That Make The Woods Seem Like A Scary Place - see you there!

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? [Oct. 10, 2016]

Monday, October 10, 2016

I just got back from camping this weekend! It was absolutely freezing, but I'm still glad I did it. I need to try to prioritize going out into the woods every week or two, because it's really something that I love. Each time I do it, I'm devastated to leave. I did some knitting (until my fingers got too cold), did some reading, started nature journaling, and also ruined some shoes when we got a little too confident on a flooded trail. We had fun. And I finished the first page of my state park passport!

Last night I went to a publisher rep night for booksellers in Minnesota. It was great fun seeing other booksellers and talking to the publisher reps. And, of course, I learned about a ton of amazing, upcoming books. Below is a photo of what I brought home. I think very soon I might do a post about the great books from local publishers I grabbed. They sound AMAZING.

One more thing: I have an excited bookish project in the works that I can't announce just yet, but I should be able to in a week or two. I wish I could say more, but I cannot. PATIENCE, FRIENDS!!



I started Scratch by Steve Himmer while I was in the woods. At night. Which is the best and the worst decision. This one's about a man who's trying to settle down, so he moves out to a rural area. He lives near a forest where - surprise - a shapeshifter also lives. It's fun so far, right now the story is being narrated by the shapeshifter. I have no idea where this one is going to go. It comes out tomorrow!

What are you reading this week?



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