Monster Book for Girls
Edited by Terry Grimwood

Exaggerated Press, 2011
Review by Matthew Tait

Somewhat familiar with what Exaggerated Press has to offer (Terry Grimwood’s own Bloody War was one of my highlights of 2011), I approached Monster Book for Girls rather hesitantly (if not curiously). The title itself seemed to raise more questions than answers: was this a horror collection aimed primarily at a female audience? Or did this book fit somewhere more into the realm of those campy pre-war throwbacks that came filled to the brim with adventure stories, where characters cavorted the pages with sporty finesse and Hardy Boys exploits?

The answer lies somewhere in between. When the call went out for new poetry and prose inspired by those five words, the guidelines were wide open with no specific genre required. And this certainly reflects in the tales with the end result being a kaleidoscopic mish-mash that is at turns horrific yet at times mundane. But underlying it all the pertinent theme here is one of female thaumaturgy, a girl story book where the battles encompass human monsters, monsters of the imagination, and everything in between.

Highlights include the post-apocalyptic world of “Turning” by Shay Darrach. With Sarah’s ‘to-do’ List, Samantha Porter gives us a short and malign comedy with a domestic twist. Stuart Young’s “Breaking the Spell” is a revenge ditty with YA styling’s that’s droll relief from the tales that proceeded it. “Getting Warm” by Gary McMahon fits at the other end of the spectrum – a delightfully adult story where Gary explores the insights of disparate victims in the aftermath of a true crime.

And rounding off the odyssey is a novelette by another of my favorite new writers to come along in recent years: “Spiral” by David Rix. Here, David gives us what is a poignant personal journey but infused with subtle supernatural themes. Like his book Feather, the unique prose outstrips everything else, and we hear the sound of writer who is only just now gaining momentum on a world stage.

Imaginative cover illustration and probing title aside, there were times when I did find Monster Book for Girls a somewhat laborious task, often putting the book down for extended periods of time. However, the apathy here can be attributed to the book’s distinct lack of horror (something that was spelled out at the very beginning), so there were no overall surprises when encountering fiction that felt cryptic and seemed to go nowhere. More predilections came into effect with the interlaced poetry – although still cleverly adhering to the Monster theme this is a realm of writing I’ve never found overtly appealing. However, taken as a working whole editor Terry Grimwood has accomplished what he envisioned at the start: create an eclectic and intriguing meeting of literary minds and astounding interpretations.

[Editor’s Note: The digigal edition of Matthew Tait’s Slander Hall is available for the remainder of this month (May) for only $.99. Check it out: Slander Hall]

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