3 out of 4 stars
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Toxic Cookout by Rob Dinsmoor is a collection of seventeen mind-bending short stories. Each unique story stands alone, and the topics and emotions covered vary, including some with sci-fi twist endings and others with emotional shocks. Overall, the collection is reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk; however, Dinsmoor has a distinctive voice and writing style that is completely his own.
A fan of twist endings and challenging concepts, I quickly devoured Toxic Cookout, always excited for what new surprise would come next. A few of the stories shined brighter than the others, including: “Times are Different in Port St. Joe,” “Life After Bambi,” “The World in Gunnar’s Barn,” “The Pharaoh Cats,” and “What Do Mares Eat?,” with the latter being my favorite. Where many of the stories have a science fiction theme in their endings, “What Do Mares Eat?” has an emotional twist that hits unexpectedly deep.
Unfortunately, several of the tales did not live up to my expectations and were dwarfed by the aforementioned stories. Two of the stories—“Selfies,” which is the first in the collection, and “Surf’s Up”—were particularly disappointing. They are written from a female perspective, which feels quite degrading. Whereas the tales narrated by a male character portray him as generally logical, intelligent, and capable, the female-voiced narratives depict the women as silly and naïve, and throughout the book the female characters are often objectified. Although Dinsmoor does include diversity among his characters, a few words and phrases used in the book may be offensive to some readers. However, it does not appear that the offensive language was intentional.
I rate Toxic Cookout 3 out of 4 stars. Some of the stories are most certainly worthy of 4 stars, while others would claim 2 at best. Both Dinsmoor’s voice and his concepts are unique, his writing is clear and engaging, and the book itself is formatted well and appears decently edited. As previously stated, offensive language, sexist undertones, and some disappointing stories decrease the books rating, as does the presence of several typos. The typos do not distract too much from the text; however, it is clear that Toxic Cookout need a more thorough proofreading.
This book is not for everyone, and I would not recommend it to young readers nor to those who may take offense to outdated phrasing. Teenagers and adults who enjoy mind-bending tales and science fiction will love this book. Toxic Cookout definitely surprised me, and many of the stories are ones that I will read over and over again.
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