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Urban fantasy to be praised! (spoiler-free)

By Rob van den Berg, member

Aug 15, 2019: I have been a follower of for a few years now, since book one. After years of following it, I have finally decided to take the time to write a review. I will keep this review as spoiler-free as I can, because the works are more enjoyable that way. I will use the term Hellskitchensink to refer to the collection of works.

So what is Hellskitchensink? It is urban fantasy, meaning that it is our world, but with extra fantastical elements, hidden under the hood. In this regard, it is similar to Harry Potter. That means that although magic, gods, and other such creatures exist in various forms, there is no public knowledge of this. It is like a shadowy underworld, in a way, though not completely seperate.

The works of Hellskitchensink are all in the same setting, although they start in seperate places, only to join later. There are 6 long books with a seventh being published in parts, and there is a collection of short stories. Some of the later are only for supporters of the patreon, but those are not required to understand the story.

The world of Hellskitchensink is our own, yet with a fantastical twist. Various fantastical creatures, as well as mythical ones, exist within it. Although the same beings are used as characters as in mythologies and folklore, they live and interact within a modern world that has mostly forgotten them. This hiddenness is an important element, but is not perfect, it can be threatened, broken, and ignored in various ways.

I won’t delve too deep into the main plots, because I do not want to spoil. I will say though that the some of the main plots contain the threat of catastrophic events, and the main characters attempts to stop them.

The stories are engaging, and often contain unexpected twists. The colorful characters are interesting, yet believable, at least in the context of the plot and the setting. Most notably to me was the style of writing, that is often entertaining and interesting, even in the smallest details.

The fact that it occurs in our world, means that it it recognizible, and various ideas and ideals do end up being discussed. Values like life, caring, ambition, fairness and sacrifice tend to be discussed and used in the story that makes both the story and the values seem to come alive. This applies not only within the story, but in a larger context as well, in both philisophical and sometimes even political ways.

Is there anything not to be liked? To be honest, there was a moment a few books in that I was worried about the direction the plot went in. However, now I think this has been done in a good way, that also breathed some new life into the setting. There are also many cliffhangers and parts that leave you at the edge of your seat, but feeling actual elements of tension and excitement are good in my opinion, especially in this genre.

So overall it is a very engaging story. It is everything I like about old mythology and folklore, mixed together in a blender, and then given structure again by putting it inside a modern setting pie. I am very much a fan.

Overall: 9.8/10 I just love it.

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Or, “Why Small Towns Have All the Fun”

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

May 25, 2019: The gas station at which certain tales take place is a vista with a very promising future for its journalistically-inclined chronicler. The enigmatic Jack Townshend has a commendable level of quality in giving life to thought, an obvious passion both for a quasi-epistolary ripped-from-the-diary style of storytelling and the campfire story, and an unusually good balance between those odd siblings horror and humor. Very few criticisms apply to his compendium of accounts; a scant handful of slips of the printed tongue here and there in the form of misplaced punctuation, one observed instance of “your” rather than “you’re” (hiss) – highly infrequent problems of this nature. The biggest circumstantial frustration for many – and the necessity for this isn’t totally unreasonable – will probably come in the form of the writer’s inclination to take the concept of “closure” and frequently kick it off the side of a cliff. Well, that and the fact that the layout of the gas station’s tales isn’t quite as intuitive as one might like, but trouble in navigating something is by definition liminal.

Now, what kind of zoo is this collection of tales? To put a single kids-these-days-appropriate name to the entity: creepypasta. However, it’s less of what that typically entails, and more of a Stephen King thing with Groucho Marx glasses. There’s a gas station by the edge of the woods in an undisclosed place in the continental U.S., and tale-worthy oddities permeate it like the town to which it technically geographically belongs is permeated by bumpkins of all sorts. The gas station’s primary personality, none other than Jack, is an insomniac who’s seen it ALL, and has all the self-defense capacity of a patch of rhubarb in the crosshairs of a herd of deer. He’s the sort whose main goals in life are three. One: forgetting about the forget-worthy stuff that happens around him, and which ALWAYS happens to slip from the memory and notice of everyone else in his vicinity. Two: taking care of the station for which he is clerk, steward, shepherd, and occasional exorcist type. Three: documenting the nonsense that happens around him, from drugs that cause spiders to plants that grow human hands, from big mutated raccoons to people who uniformly refuse to stay dead, from pagan deities seeking influence to uninvited bathroom guests. He’s not a hero, and he’s okay with that, and you want him to keep going just so he can help the next clueless Johnny walking in the door deal with their haunted mustache or something.

Presentation-wise, the experience is messy, in that you’re running along the inside track of the mind of a flawed narrator – and that’s great! A few other personalities pick up the thread at times, but your general feeling from the whole is a suffusion of raised eyebrow garnished with lots of chronic weirdness, a surprisingly frequent and genuine inclination toward laughter, a bunch of times where the raised eyebrow becomes a rolled eye toward “trying too hard” with the paranormal, and a handful of occasions that legitimately and lastingly raise the hairs along the spine. Even so, there’s an artful and occasionally savage elegance to the turns of phrase that breathe life into these altercations. Maybe not written by someone who loves English like a paramour, but at least a person with whom English went out on a dozen dinner dates and that still occasionally receives flowers. So far, after several major arcs, the storytelling manages to remain enjoyable even when unpleasant or slightly off-putting. The real humdinger of Jack’s polished work, on the other hand, is the frequency with which answers are deliberately withheld. Of course, there are as many people who like that sort of coy or oblique style in writing, and to its credit there’s not an instant that this seems to be born of malice or suckering in of the audience (with one glaring possible, exception involving an investigator in the back of a van very specifically NOT being told anything of substance). It’s more that the author obviously grasps the idea that people find things more unsettling when they’re caught from the corner of the eye rather than walking up wearing a spinning bow tie and a neon top hat. Furthermore, for such a small town and a small gas station, it’s obvious that standing around and just giving the audience all pertinent information would take quite a while, and what answers one does eventually receive are thematic puzzle pieces carved to fit a much greater cohesive whole.

In short: if you like feeling something spoopy from a midnight recounting of a well-told yarn, laughter at the most outlandish of times at a slightly twisted sense of humor, and can tolerate the deferral of some mysteries’ resolutions indefinitely, it’s more than worth your while to visit a certain establishment. Just don’t forget change if you need to use the phone, don’t forget to say hello to the hardworking people behind the counter, and don’t go into the woods.

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No title

By Wayne Basta, author of Seraph's Gambit

Nov 26, 2018: Disclaimer: The Warlock Ruthless is published on the same site as some of my own work.

Quirky is the first word that comes to mind after reading this. Leslie is a loser who just can’t get his life together. Then he encounters a demon offering him that informs him he has made one more mistake, signing up to be his servant when he signed the lease on his new home. Instead of freaking out and looking for some loophole to escape, Leslie jumps into the role of demon herald head first.

The story so far does a good job of balancing the line between humorous and dark. Leslie has pledged himself to the dark demon of gore. The author does not hold his punches here and, without getting into spoilers, Leslie does some dark stuff pretty quickly.

But . . . but . . . it’s still quite humorous. Gore comes off as appropriately over the top. He’s almost cartoon evil. But in a good way. This serves to keep the story engaging rather than a drag. Darkness for the sake of darkness gets depressing. This keeps you chuckling.

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