"Monsters: We’re All a Little Different (Dark Tide Book 5)" Book Review

Written by Stephen McClurg

Published by Crystal Lake Publishing

monsters were all a little different poster large

Written by Glenn Rolfe, Tom Deady, and Nick Kolakowski
2022, 203 pages, Fiction
Released on December 13, 2022


Growing up, I didn’t know I was part of a long line of Monster Kids that stretched back to Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury crying in a theater after King Kong. Before I knew who either artist was, I had also cried at the fall of the colossal Kong. Eventually, maybe through Fangoria or Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, I learned about other kids who grew up making Aurora model kits of the Frankenstein monster and championing the Rays and the various strands of beasts and behemoths they left behind.

I’m definitely the audience for Monsters: We’re All a Little Different, an anthology with three novellas from authors Glenn Rolfe, Tom Deady, and Nick Kolakowski. All three stories deliver on what the title promises: monsters. Each one is fast-paced, and besides familial content restrictions, they would be great for a YA reader wanting to check out adult horror. The subtitle hints at the outsider status felt by many young horror fans and might be considered a calling for those inclined to darker entertainment. The three-novella format has gained popularity over the years and works as effectively as the editing and sequencing involved, and this one works well.

These strengths do create some weaknesses. Because the stories aren’t novels, the authors have limited space to develop characters. If one is looking for literary horror, it’s not here, though there are few occasions where the characters dip below pulp level. Because so much is well done, the false notes ring out. The pace of the storytelling is a double-edged sword. The stories fly by and often at a pace that doesn’t allow for potential developmental insight. Then again, this ain’t the medicine for those ills and I don’t think it’s pretending to be. But even with the triumph of speed over development, like all good horror, each novella is about more than just monsters, more than just a few good kills.

The title of Glenn Rolfe’s “It Came from the Lake” hearkens back to slapdash drive-in creature features and delivers on that theme, if not updating it. Rolfe weaves several stories together: a noirish private detective story, a couple of teen-in-trouble bits, a veteran with PTSD, among one or two more threads. He merges so many characters and plots into such a small space, and for the most part pulls it off, barring a few flat characters. The technique can be disorienting at times, especially when the story switches perspectives.

One of the leads, Leilani, a foster teen, at first comes off like a stereotypical bad girl. Her character is one of the few allowed room in the narrative for interesting development. And the lake monster, the Nietzsche Dilemma, would be wonderful to see on film. Since all great lake monsters get nicknames, Nessie or Champ, for instance, I kept wondering what would this one get? Emma? Big Dil?

Tom Deady’s “In the Glastonbury Woods” monsters could be part of a double feature with the Nietzsche d ilemma. The story opens with a familiar scene for horror fans, a summer road trip. With that setup, what could go right? Deady spices the fatal road trip with some freshness, including some Hulkamania nostalgia, but with the addition of several characters and larger passage of time outside the immediate action, the novella feels like it didn’t quite find its form. Underdone as a novel and overdone as a short story.

Nick Kolawkowski’s “Groundhog Slay” will delight and disappoint readers, likely starting with their reaction to that title. Whatever you have in mind the story is or will be–will be wrong. It’s both delightful and frustrating, but hopefully equally as fun. The novella opens with a Jason Voorhees-like character waking up underwater to go and kill some teen campers. What’s different is he’s been doing this repeatedly, maybe even thousands of times, and is now conscious of it. At first, I was hoping to get an existential take on a Voorhees-like character trapped in a Beckettian loop as a commentary on sequels, slashers, or video games. However, what develops is something more akin to a bizarro version of Ready Player One, complete with horror Easter eggs galore. While I had wanted to choose my own adventure, I appreciate Kolawkowski’s subversion of traditional narrative logic and readerly desire. And just when I thought I had checked out of the absurdity of it all, he somehow delivers a touching ending with which few serious readers would want to argue.

Crystal Lake’s "Dark Tide" series is worth seeking out and will continue soon with more collections, which will include themes of Weird Western, Sherlock Holmes, Grief Horror, and more.


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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Stephen McClurg
Staff Reviewer
No matter how hard he tries to focus on music, Stephen always gets called back to horror culture. The inciting incident is likely the night his grandmother cackled through his wide-eyed and white-knuckled first viewing of Jaws at three. The ‘70s were a different time. Over the years, he has mostly published poetry and essays, but started writing with a review section for the Halloween edition of the sixth-grade school newspaper. He rated titles like Creepshow with a short description and illustrated pumpkins. His teacher loved it, but the principal shredded the final version before distribution since all the movies were rated R.
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