Mark Allen Gunnells’ ‘Book Haven and Other Curiosities’ – Book Review

Author of Flowers In A Dumpster, Mark Allen Gunnells released his third book with Crystal Lake Publishing this week. Book Haven and Other Curiosities is a collection of 21 short stories that are sure to provoke a variety of emotions. As an avid fan of horror, I’ve been on the hunt for more books to read and was thrilled to have the opportunity to take on this ARC that introduced me to Mark’s work.

“Book Haven”

The book starts with the title story, a novella about a disastrous event called The Wipe, a virus that deleted all digital files of literature from every online database. Government officials have been hired to restore the literature since production of physical copies have been discontinued. Myths about a Book Haven have circulated and caught the attention of book hounds like lead protagonist Paul Nelson. While working for the literature restoration agency, Paul finds himself in the middle of a manhunt. What ensues as the story unravels is entertaining and had me making many guesses about the ending.

“Human Bones In A China Cabinet”

This short story is simply about greedy and deceit. Jesse and Mike have been friends for a while, prompting Jesse to feel comfortable enough to share his weird obsession for human bones with Mike. What seems to be a normal night of drinking and movie watching turns into the ultimate betrayal. This will leave you questioning whether you really know who your friends are.

“Welcome Home”

A dash of charm and a pinch of science fiction; innermost fantasies generate great appeal for this short. Steven and Evan appear to be a happy couple, but the truth is quickly revealed as Steve pens his inner thoughts in her journal. Tugged between guilt and happiness, he is unsure how to feel about his relationship with Evan. The story slowly unfolds, divulging an avant garde plot that will leave a bittersweet taste in your mouth.

“C U SOON”

One of Mark Allen Gunnells’ more haunting stories focuses on the harsh consequences of texting and driving. Monica was a well known and liked teenager who was constantly immersed in her phone – so much so that she was buried with it. The cause of her accident is not much of a question, based on her infatuation with her device. However, her boyfriend, Phillip, feels partly responsible for her death. Not only is he dealing with the emotions of healing from Monica’s death; when he starts receiving text messages from her phone, his entire mental stability is on the brink. The twist at the end is a complete shock and one I did not see coming.

“End-Of-The-World-Benediction”

A prolific poem about the world ending in such a way that best describes how we all act as bystanders, rather than stepping away from the current.

“Going To See A Man About A Dog”

This crippling story is about the pure innocence of a child’s mind lavishly planted in the middle of a disgustingly polluted barrier. It’s from stories that we’ve heard or read about in the daily news headlines, all that tug at our hearts. Four-year-old Ethan doesn’t see his parents for the drug-dependent fiends they really are, and when dad Skeeter attempts to leave for a business deal, Ethan wants to tag along. Sugarcoating the actual reason for his trip, Skeeter entices Ethan to come by telling him he’s going to see someone about a dog. What kid doesn’t want a dog? Unbeknownst to Skeeter, there is a dog at the house they pull up to. This story is tragic and provides the harsh reality that is an ongoing issue.

“The Sandbox”

“The Sandbox” is a beautifully cryptic story that highlights Timothy, a school-aged boy who has been made into an outcast by his peers. One day, he is visited by an older man who poses no threat of being a stranger. While playing in the sandbox, Timothy and the older man carry on a conversation about his passion for creating and building. This conversation serves as an inspiration that helps shape Timothy’s entire life. This is a story that perfectly displays how a single gesture can ignite confidence in even the simplest ways, using encouragement rather than menacing tactics towards something different.

“Wrong”

There is no better word to describe this short story than WRONG. There’s nothing worse than for a parent to hear godawful things about their kids, but to acknowledge them without doubt is another thing. Janet finds her boss amid her overwhelming emotions and questions the reasoning behind it. Carol has received horrible news of a crime that her son is being accused of.  The two have a heartfelt conversation about parenthood just before the work day is complete. Janet returns home to discover how much she and her boss have in common. Instead of allowing her situation to get out of hand, Janet takes Carol’s advice.

“Evolution”

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, this is the tale of Lowell, who goes from hunted to hunter in a story about love lost and an unexpected friendship. Lowell lost his boyfriend after the two were attacked by a group of savages, but he was saved by Dru, who cared for him while he recovered. During his healing, he becomes equipped with some kickass skills. I personally love this short because there’s nothing better than a great comeback from a once defeated underdog.

“The Bracelet”

Not much can be said about “The Bracelet” without giving any spoilers. It’s a sympathy-drenched story about how fragile and short life is. The measures our loved ones will take to have a second chance or borrowed time is a highlight. It feels like you’re grabbing at running water, trying desperately to fill the empty cup of their lives.

“Click Bait”

A horrific story that might have you thinking twice about friend requests on social media.

“A Day Like Any Other”

Like a page torn out of my personal journal, the words were erected from the page to slap me awake. A poem about the routine we put ourselves in and function on autopilot. This story is an awakening reminder to veer off and try something new.

“The Man Who Watched The Ocean, Or Twelve Steps Down Into The Sea”

After doing a little research on Mark, I found out there is a connection between this and another short story from one of his previous books, Curtain Call and Other Dark Entertainments. That novel includes a tale called “The Girl Who Watched the Ocean,” and while I’m not clear of the connection… I will say that this story is a complete punch to the throat. Issac visits the lighthouse often to watch the ocean, mourning the loss of a past love. One stormy autumn day, he decides he will no longer stop by for visits, because he’s moving on.

“The Desk”

When Nick Henson moves into an old house with much needed renovations, he did not expect to find the treasures it withheld. The owner died a few years before, and his niece was the only remaining family member left to inherit the home. Once Nick bought it, he found himself taking on almost every task… except making the deadline for his follow up novel. He stumbled upon an abundance of stories written by the previous owner, and what he decides to do with them is unforeseen.

“When Gas Was 52 Cents Per Gallon”

This short depicts two college roommates who end up stranded at an abandoned gas station in the back woods. While they wait for a tow truck to arrive, Brandon explores an abandoned building to use the restroom. What happens afterwards is brutal and meticulously described in keen detail. It’s a risqué tale of what may be fantasy or a total nightmare.

“The Little Boy Who Lived In The Library”

Anyone who reads for leisure will admit that stories serve as an escape from reality. For one little boy, the library houses that escape. His daily visits catch the attention of one employee, and while attempting to discuss family life, she’s shut out by him. This is a Twilight Zone type of story that strikes a personal nerve in my body.

“Waiting For The Fall”

Darrell suffered from a stroke last winter and outlived everyone’s expectations of him. His daughters are baffled, trying to figure out what he’s waiting for. At the perfect moment, Darrell makes his move, and the wait is finally over.

“Tanner”

Tanner is a horrific, erotic story about a man’s pleasurable obsession with his newly purchased tanning bed that he named Tanner. The local tanning salon sold off all their old beds, and Mathew couldn’t resist. His constant tanning/self-loving sessions causes a riff between him and his boyfriend, Wes. The plot heats up after Wes convinces Mathew to sell Tanner, and mysterious occurrences begin to happen. This story will forever keep me from using a tanning bed. Yikes!

“Go To Sleep, Little Baby”

This is a substantially short story that emphasizes the extreme measures people will take and the sacrifices made to live a life of luxury.

“The Farm”

At first, I felt Becket was a character representation of me and horror fans who travel and visit filming locations. He goes to visit the farm where one of his favorite indie films was made and meets its new owner, Victor. The two walk through the property and discuss the movie, but Becket’s hidden agenda totally caught me off guard. This made for an ideal, gore flushed climax.

“The Hidden Cemetery”

Billy and Beth are driving down an old road as flirtatious behavior fills the air. Billy pulls the car into  rarely visited Limestone Cemetery. Beth believes this is where the two are going to hop in the back seat and get intimate. She was poorly mistaken; Billy’s plans for her are far more malicious and veer off your typical path.

Final Thoughts

Mark Allen Gunnells possesses a knack for plucking a reader and placing them in the middle of fictitious setting among characters from his mind. What’s so conclusive about his stories is how genuine they feel. He doesn’t just write stories; he creates an experience, which is something not too many other authors can execute well. The backstory of each character is very minimal but ever so pleasing, useful to fully understand exactly who this person is and where they’ve been. Mark can place a reader in the middle of a narrative and give them the elements to follow along effortlessly, which is the equivalent of hoping on a treadmill at full speed and keeping pace, almost ninja-like.

To conclude, this was my first encounter with Mark Allen Gunnells’ work, and I will profoundly admit that I am hooked. For anyone who enjoys a little escape, Mark has perfectly packaged 21 different opportunities for his readers to relocate and dive into. I would recommend Book Haven and Other Curiosities, and not just to those who love reading – this collection of shorts are ideal for quenching the smallest of literature thirsts.

About Anna

Hello readers, I was born and raised in Southern California. Throughout my upbringing I grew fond of the horror movie genre thanks to my mother. With my interest in true crime, I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in forensic investigation. I enjoy art of all kind and appreciate subject matter outside the social norm. I like to engage in conversation involving my passions, so lets talk.

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