Date of publication: August 27th 2021
Genre: Science Fiction
Purchase Links: Amazon
A college student reluctantly attends a family chili cookout that turns into a never-ending nightmare. A man desperate for job skills uses a brain implant to help him learn, but it malfunctions and leaves him sexually attracted to shadows. A private investigator is hired to discover who keeps befouling the walls of convenience store bathrooms. Two deer engaged in combat find that they are unable to unlock from one another’s antlers after the fight is over. A single mother spends 2020 battling an evil landlord, a fascist neighbor, national political chaos, and a global pandemic. These are the strange stories told by regulars at the local bar on Christmas Eve, stories which each began with a phone call from someone who announced “you don’t know me, but we’re cousins.”
With nothing better to do, Harold stared at his phone watching his progress on the map as the car took him to his destination.cousin calls by zeb haradon
When I was approached to review this book, I was on the fence about reading it. I wouldn’t say I like reviewing anthologies. I find it hard to do with the number of stories in the book. But, the blurb called to me on this, and it was the blurb that ultimately convinced me to read Cousin Calls.
Each of the stories in Cousin Calls was fast-paced and well written. The only lag I found was during Alex’s story (which would be about the middle of the book), which didn’t throw me off the book.
I enjoyed reading Cousin Calls. The author’s wit shone throughout the book. I outright laughed during certain parts of the book; it was that good.
Since this is an anthology, I will give you all a brief description of each story. Each story is connected because it starts with a call from a cousin that each storyteller didn’t know about.
World’s Greatest Chili (Annie’s story):
I laughed while reading this story. Annie is a stripper/college student who is supporting her wanna-be poet boyfriend, Gaelen. She gets a call at work from a man claiming to be her cousin. Her cousin wants her to go to Texas, eat some chili, and get a scholarship to help with college. It sounds good to Annie, and she agrees to go. But Gaelen takes some convincing. But, not all is what it seems, and Annie is in for a big shock when she realizes what goes into the chili.
I was a bit disturbed reading World’s Greatest Chili. Annie seemed very needy and was making excuses for Gaelen left and right. Gaelen knew that, and he could manipulate Annie into doing whatever he wanted. But once Annie accepted the invite and filled out the paperwork for the scholarship, I started to see a different side of her. She wasn’t as needy (I cheered when she kept putting Gaelen in his place), and she knew that going to Texas would be life-changing. And oh boy, was it. All I have to say is that I will not look at chili the same way again.
The Shadow Thief (Ward’s story)
I will admit, The Shadow Thief was a little weird, and I handle weird pretty well.
Ward is down on his luck and at the end of his rope when he receives his cousin’s call. His long-lost cousin works for an organization called WHA, and they are hiring. Ward says he’ll apply. The only thing, though, is that Ward doesn’t have any background in anything. Knowing this, Ward opts to get an implant in his head that will allow him to learn things quickly. But there was a side effect to the implant. One that Ward didn’t expect or want.
Like I said above, The Shadow Thief was a little weird and was probably my least favorite out of the five books. I did find the thought of implants to help with your long-term memory fascinating, but I wouldn’t say I liked the side effects. I was a little disgusted by the end of the story.
The Mysterious Case of Who was Wiping Sh*t All Over the Bathroom Walls (Gordon’s story):
This story was gross and funny at the same time. Gordon is a PI hired by a well-to-do convenience store owner to find out who or what is wiping sh*t in his locked bathroom. Gordon is intrigued and sets up surveillance. What he finds out shocks him to the core.
As I stated above, this story is gross. I mean, wiping sh*t on bathroom walls. I gagged reading those scenes. But man, was it worth it. The end of this story was something I wasn’t expecting. I was shocked by who the sh*t wiper was and why that person was doing it.
The Lucky Bucks (Alex’s story):
The Lucky Bucks was a sad story. I went through a Poe phase in high school, and this story strongly reminds me of it.
The Lucky Bucks is the story of Alex. Alex is a whitetail deer who is experiencing his first mating season. As with the other stories, Alex’s long-lost cousin, Mortimer, decides to bellow at him from across a field. That sets off an epic fight for territory that ends with Mortimer and Alex locked at the antlers. Mortimer dies and is eaten by coyotes, with his head hanging off Alex’s antlers. What happens after is genuinely saddening. All I could think is “poor Alex.”
I didn’t think I would like a story told from the perspective of a deer, but it was interesting. The author was able to weave his wit and sarcasm through this story. I wasn’t a huge fan of the end, but I am a realist also.
The True Story of Douchebag Dave (Jane’s story):
Before I get into this story, I warn you that this story can be triggering. It follows the 2020 election and the pandemic from day 1. The main character, Jane, is very abrasive and I didn’t like her. But, just because I didn’t like her didn’t mean that I didn’t like the story. Oh, and if you are a Trumper, I highly recommend not reading this story. Jane hates Trump with a passion and is very, um, vocal about it. That did not offend me (I am not a fan of his), but there are still people who are.
Jane got a call from her long-lost cousin, and he had an interesting proposition. He was moving out of his apartment and wanted to know if she would rent it once he was done moving. She jumped at the chance and moved in with her son. Jane soon finds out that her downstairs neighbor is a bigot doing his damndest to get her evicted. When the pandemic hits, Jane is stuck in a hostile environment and is slowly losing it. Factoring in the 2020 Presidental election and Jane’s hatred for Trump, her world spins out of control. What happened next was unexpected. What happened? What did Jane do?
All of these stories made for an interesting read. Intertwined in between these stories was Harold sitting at the Coffin Bar listening to them and waiting for his mysterious cousin to appear.
I would recommend Cousin Calls to anyone over the age of 21. There is language, violence, and gore.