Review ~ The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven

This book was provided to me by Night Shade Books via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven edited by Ellen Datlow

Cover via Goodreads

For over three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror. Bringing you the most frightening and terrifying stories, Datlow always has her finger on the pulse of what horror readers crave. Now, with the seventh volume of this series, Datlow is back again to bring you the stories that will keep you up at night.

With each passing year, science, technology, and the march of time shine light into the craggy corners of the universe, making the fears of an earlier generation seem quaint. But this “light” creates its own shadows. The Best Horror of the Year chronicles these shifting shadows. It is a catalog of terror, fear, and unpleasantness, as articulated by today’s most challenging and exciting writers.
(via Goodreads)

In The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven, Ellen Datlow once again skims the cream to introduce fickle readers like me to some of the shining stars of the horror lit world. There are twenty-two stories in this collection, two less than last year’s volume though I don’t remember so many longer works included in Volume Six. Not quite half are by female authors.

There seemed to me to be several board categories of stories:

For example, quite a few serial killers as narrators with Angela Slater’s “Winter Children,” Gemma File’s “This is Not For You” (which includes the conceit of a murderous virago cult), “Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlin Kiernan, and my personal favorite of the group “Wingless Beasts” by Lucy Taylor for desert gross-out factor. (Hadn’t realized that this group contained so many female authors…)

A couple of stories involved crime with law enforcement or detective involved. “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud features an occult investigator named Jack Oleander, whose further adventures I would happily read. Rio Youers’ “Outside Heavenly” had a lot of True Crime feel to it, though with a much more supernatural conclusion.

I’m always a sucker for horror comedy and I got a kick out of Stephen Graham Jones’ “Chapter Six,” which asks the question, what would a pair of academic rivals do after the zombie apocalypse?

There were also a bunch of cosmic horror/forbidden knowledge tales. “Allochton” by Livia Llewellyn provides a semi answer to my question about the intersection of domestic and cosmic horror as a company wife is wooed by strange qualities in the geography around her. Laird Barron’s “The Worms Crawl In” also takes us out into the forest to meet doom.

Rhoads Brazos’s “Tred Upon the Brittle Shell” and John Langan’s “Ymir” both pull from ancient mythologies and both involve physical decent as well, although Dale Bailey’s “The Culvert” doesn’t go as deep into the earth, but leaves us as lost in a shifting labyrinth.

Two stories that I really enjoyed involved a more historical touch. “A Dweller in Amenty” by Genevieve Valentine involves the ins and outs of a sin eater and Keris McDonald takes us back to academia as a museum worker learns about Innocent Coats in “The Coat Off His Back.”

One last stand-out: “Depertures” by Carole Johnstone, creepy and gory and set in an airplane terminal. It excellently combines the mundane with the uncanny.

Publishing info, my copy: eARC in Kindle and ePub formats
Acquired: via Edelweiss
Genre: Horror

10-books

Review ~ Shadow Show

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller (Editor) & Mort Castle (Editor)

Cover via Goodreads

“What do you imagine when you hear the name” . . . Bradbury?

You might see rockets to Mars. Or bizarre circuses where otherworldly acts whirl in the center ring. Perhaps you travel to a dystopian future, where books are set ablaze . . . or to an out-of-the-way sideshow, where animated illustrations crawl across human skin. Or maybe, suddenly, you’re returned to a simpler time in small-town America, where summer perfumes the air and life is almost perfect . . . “almost.”

Ray Bradbury–peerless storyteller, poet of the impossible, and one of America’s most beloved authors–is a literary giant whose remarkable career has spanned seven decades. Now twenty-six of today’s most diverse and celebrated authors offer new short works in honor of the master; stories of heart, intelligence, and dark wonder from a remarkable range of creative artists. (via Goodreads)

According to Goodreads, it took me two years to read this book. This is why Deal Me In is helping me get through anthologies…

This anthology was published a month after Ray Bradbury’s death, but that was just a scheduling coincidence. I think I’d had it on my wishlist since December. I had been rather keen to buy it, but like most anthologies, it took me a while to get through it.

Previous Highlights:

I had three stories left and all of them were horror stories. “Hayleigh’s Dad” by Julia Keller and “Who Knocks?” by David Eggers both fell into that area of “bad things happening to girls who have adventures.” I hadn’t realized that Bradbury had set a precedence for this in his story “The Whole Town’s Sleeping.” While that’s a tense story, I’m disappointed that girls in Bradbury stories and Bradbury-esque stories are doomed to horrible fates.

I really enjoyed Kelly Link’s “Two Houses.” It’s a great combination of sci-fi and horror. It reminded me a little of Event Horizon. What makes a haunted house? Can you conjure a ghost by replicating a house perfectly? It’s not the last story in the book, but it was a great ending for me.

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication date: July 10th 2012
Genre: short stories, horror, fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? I like Ray Bradbury

Review ~ The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six

This book was provided to me by Night Shade Books via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six by Edited by Ellen Datlow

Cover via Goodreads

With each passing year, science, technology, and the march of time shine light into the craggy corners of the universe, making the fears of an earlier generation seem quaint. But this “light” creates its own shadows. The Best Horror of the Year, edited by Ellen Datlow, chronicles these shifting shadows. It is a catalog of terror, fear, and unpleasantness, as articulated by today’s most challenging and exciting writers.

The best horror writers of today do the same thing that horror writers of a hundred years ago did. They tell good stories—stories that scare us. And when these writers tell really good stories that really scare us, Ellen Datlow notices. She’s been noticing for more than a quarter century. For twenty-one years, she coedited The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and for the last six years, she’s edited this series. In addition to this monumental cataloging of the best, she has edited hundreds of other horror anthologies and won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards.

More than any other editor or critic, Ellen Datlow has charted the shadowy abyss of horror fiction. Join her on this journey into the dark parts of the human heart . . . either for the first time . . . or once again. (via Goodreads)

Short fiction is a great way to keep up with writers and trends. I’ve often read the Hugo and Nebula nominated short stories to see “what’s up” in the world of science fiction and fantasy. Those stories are often available online. Horror is more difficult to keep tabs on for free. Usually, none of the Stoker nominated stories are available. I’m not sure what that says about the respective genre markets… Therefore, I am left with the occasional horror anthology.

Things that surprised me about this anthology:

  • Few zombie stories. I’m not complaining, I’m not a fan of zombies. Are zombies on the way out as a trend? I can only hope.
  • How many UK writers are in this anthology (at least 9 of 24). Again, not complaining; just an observation.
  • No overlap between this anthology and the Stoker nominations. I would have thought that maybe one or two stories would overlap, but nope. None.

The stories were all pretty solid, though varying in the amount of “horror” present. Of course, that’s a double whammy of subjectivity in a horror anthology. What are the “best” stories that define “horror.”

Stories that stood out for me:

On the severely creepy end of the spectrum, “Apports” by Stephen Bacon and  “Bones of Crow” by Ray Cluley.  Apports are “little gifts from elsewhere.” But sent by whom? Ray Cluley’s story probably wins for the goriest of the anthology. Both these tales feature people who are just trying to get by in life and find no help from the supernatural.

There were three stories with particular Victorian flair and were obviously up my alley. “Mr. Splitfoot” by Dale Bailey is written from the point of view of Maggie Fox, one of the young girls behind the founding of the spiritualist movement. Maybe they weren’t entirely charlatans…  “The Soul in the Bell Jar” by K. J. Kabza is sort of a Frankenstein tale in overdrive in a horror/fantasy world where souls are routinely sewn back onto bodies. Tim Casson’s “The Withering”introduces us to Miss Appleby, a Victorian heroine with a peculiar machine for contacting spirits. I’d read more of Miss Appleby if there was more to be had.

Two stories took horror on from a movie angle. “The House on Cobb Street” by Lynda E. Rucker is a solid haunted house story told in a found-footage kind of way, partially using blog posts and forum comments. Kim Newman’s “The Only Ending We Have” tells the story of Jayne Swallow, a body-double for Janet Leigh in the famous Psycho shower scene. Familiarity with the movie certainly helps in this story.

Speaking of Hitchcock, “Jaws of Saturn” by Laird Barron has a very noir, hitchcockian feel to it that reminded me strongly of Curse of the Demon even though the two stories have little in common.

Other stand-outs: “Call Out” by Steve Toase for using a bargest in his story. An underused creature if ever there was one. And to Neil Gaiman for “Down to the Sunless Sea” which was the only reread for me.

Publisher: Night Shade Books
Publication date: June 3rd 2014
Genre: Horror
Why did I choose to read this book? Haven’t read much good horror in a while.


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Review ~ The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1 edited by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Cover via Goodreads

From hitRECord, the immensely popular open collaborative production company, and its founder, Golden Globe-nominated actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, comes The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1.

The universe is not made of atoms; it’s made of tiny stories.

To create The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, known within the hitRECord community as RegularJOE–directed thousands of collaborators to tell tiny stories through words and art. With the help of the entire creative collective, Gordon-Levitt culled, edited and curated over 8,500 contributions into this finely tuned collection of original art from 67 contributors. Reminiscent of the 6-Word Memoir series, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1 brings together art and voices from around the world to unite and tell stories that defy size (via Goodreads)

I nabbed this little volume at San Diego ComicCon. I’ll be honest, I purchased it to get at a free Sherlock tote, but the book honestly intrigued me. It was different, small and red and hardback, in a world of door stoppers, overpriced paperbacks, and electronic files. Previous to it, I had no idea about Joseph Gordon-Levitt and HitRECord, though it doesn’t surprise me. Gordon-Leavitt seems to be the type to parley his fame into projects he wants to do. (I imagine his continued career will be a bit like Clint Eastwood’s–does what he likes and, generally, you’ll like it too.)

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is what it says on the tin. Slim and smaller than a mass market paperback, the stories are very short, just a few evocative sentences at most, and quirkily illustrated. You can consume this book all at once, or maybe just nibble at a time, but you can definitely come back for seconds.

There are two other volumes which I haven’t read yet. And they’re stocking-stuffer sized!

Genre: Super Short Stories
Why did I choose to read this book? Intrigued
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Format: Hardback
Procurement: Booth at ComicCon

Review ~ Sons of Moriarty

This book was provided to me by F+W/Adams Media and Tyrus Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes ed. by Loren D. Estleman

Cover via Goodreads

A follow-up collection to well-received “The Perils of Sherlock Holmes”! Award-winning author Loren D. Estleman has curated a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories from some of the finest authors in “Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes.” This is the first time that these stories appear together in one anthology, including “Sons of Moriarty,” a Sherlock Holmes novella, appearing here for the first time.

Estleman’s last Holmes collection, “The Perils of Sherlock Holmes,” was authorized by the Estate of Arthur Conan Doyle and was met with rave reviews. It was dubbed “an excellent collection of short stories and essays” by the “New York Review of Books,” “an entertaining and diverting read” by Bookpleasures.com, and was said to transport readers “to another place and time during the series of short stories that pay homage to the legend that is Sherlock Holmes” on the Pop Culture Guy Blog. (via Goodreads)

The cover copy says a lot about Estleman’s previous collection and absolutely nothing about *this* anthology, Sons of Moriarty, and that’s a mistake. I had three preconceptions going into this anthology:

  1. These were all new stories. (They’re not.)
  2. These stories were, maybe, Moriarty-centric. (They’re not.)
  3. These stories are all classic pastiches. (They’re not.)

Looking at a few other reviews, I’m not the only reader whose expectations have been slighted.

This anthology is held together by an interesting thread: they all involve Holmes dealing with more modern crimes or Holmes written into a post-WWI setting. But it’s a very tenuous thread that bind loosely and not always successfully.

The anthology starts with “The Infernal Machine” by John Lutz. This story was a reread for me. Set late in Holmes’ career, Holmes and Watson encounter the Gatling gun. The duo, of course, meditate on the horrors that could be wrought by the titular infernal machine. It’s a good start and a great bookend to the final story of anthology. Unfortunately, it’s a rocky road between the first tale and the last.

“The Adventure of the Double Bogey Man” by Robert L. Fish is not a pastiche, but a parody. Personally, I have a pretty liberal love for Sherlock Holmes, but I really dislike parodies. Holmes need to be the smartest man in the room, arrogance and all. Yes, this story involves Holmes and something utterly new to him, but sticking a parody story in the middle of a serious anthology is not a great move.

Likewise, “The Case of the Bloodless Sock” by Anne Perry is another sort of fiction that I don’t entirely understand. Holmes is a man of expertise and experience. If you’re writing a young Holmes, he doesn’t have all of those things. Writing teenage Holmes, smarts intact, into a completely modern setting is simply pandering to a YA audience.

“Sherlocks” by Al Sarrantonio is an even further extension of Sherlock in the future. The story is SF noir and sherlocks are an information gathering technology. There is not a true Sherlock in sight.

There are no Sherlocks in “The Adventure of the Frightened Baronet” by August Derleth either, but this is more of a Holmes story than the previous three. Solar Pons was a character created to bring Holmes into the 1920s and 30s (as Wikipedia notes). The change of setting did not seem obvious to me, but this character and the story are as good as Doyle could have written. It’s a very good pastiche. I have been meaning to read some of Derleth’s stories and I was pleased to find one here.

Until I started writing this review, I had forgotten about “Before the Adventures” by Lenore Carroll. It is a fictional letter from Doyle to the editor of Strand magazine about the origins of Holmes & Watson. The inspirational Cockney personality of Budger not only provides Doyle with his character, but puts the entirety of Doyle’s life in order. I have no idea why it’s included in this anthology or why I’d find it more interesting than what might have factually been Doyle’s inspirations.

All of the stories in this anthology should be in service to Loren D. Estleman’s novella, “Sons of Moriarty.” Comprising the last 40% of the book, it is the show piece and it certainly could have withstood better companions. It is also the only previously unpublished work. While it runs a little long and is maybe little light on the deductive reasoning, it’s a pretty good pastiche. Holmes and Watson are older and encounter the Mafia. Organized crime is something that traditional Holmes never dealt with.

Despite it’s very good points, this anthology felt padded out for the purposes of making it appropriately book length. Hopefully, readers will skip the stories that don’t really belong and still join author and editor Estleman for his fine tale at the end.

Genre: Mystery, mostly.
Why did I choose to read this book? Got me with the Moriarty, who is not in evidence.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes, but it was touch and go for a while.
Craft Lessons: Don’t pad for padding’s sake.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley

Peril of the Short Story 2013

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I didn’t get as many short stories read during R.I.P. as I intended. Strangely, my attention span has been craving longer works.

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray BradburyI really meant to finish Shadow Show. I’ve been reading this anthology on and off since last year. R.I.P. 2012 included Shadow Show stories! I think I burnt out on anthologies earlier in the year and once again Shadow Show has become a box of very rich chocolates.

“The Page” by Ramsey Campbell – Long, idyllic set up to a sort of an air conditioned ending. I can see this story in my head as an episode of an 80s anthology show, like The Ray Bradbury Theatre though maybe not the best episode of such a show. The middle-aged couple trying to enjoy their time on the beach, the sort of spooky mystery of the wind-blown page, the powerful woman at the end that I can only imagine in a shoulder-padded power suit.

“Light” by Mort Castle – Reminds me of Bradbury’s California mysteries, especially the last one, Let’s All Kill Constance. Bradbury had a love affair with Hollywood. Hollywood consumes dreams and then spits them back to become other people’s dreams.

“Conjure” by Alice Hoffman – Girls. Do you find them in Bradbury stories? Not often, but this might be what it would look like if there were girl characters in Bradbury’s world. It’s perhaps a more perilous world for them than for boys. (This story reminds me a little of Dennis Leheane’s Mystic River, a Bradbury story terribly inverted.)

“Backward in Seville” by Audrey Niffenegger & “Earth (a Gift Shop)” by Charles Yu – Both were short responses to specific Ray Bradbury stories “The Playground” and “There Will Come Soft Rain.” Both solid and more sci-fi aspected than the other three stories.

Casting the Runes and Other Ghost StoriesAfter watching Night of the Demon, I was interested in M. R. James “Casting the Runes.” It is a bit different from the movie. The plot is simpler, but it’s also more subtle in its telling. And as a writer who often hates writing transitions between scenes, I rather loved this:

It is not necessary to tell in further detail the steps by which Henry Harrison and Dunning were brought together.

Well played, Mr. James.

Carniepunk

This book was provided to me by Gallery Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Carniepunk, featuring Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and Kevin Hearne

Cover via Goodreads

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic. (via Goodreads)

As a fan of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, I was intrigued by an anthology that endeavors to collect carnival stories with an “urban” fantasy bent. Carniepunk contains fourteen stories. Half are stand-alone stories and half are set within the worlds of recent, popular urban fantasy series.

The best of the anthology are from the former category. We start with Rob Thurman’s “Painted Love,” which provides a creepy nod to Bradbury’s Illustrated Man. Hillary Jacques’s “Recession of the Divine” is also a standout, mashing up Greek myth and carnivals with a dash of murder mystery. The best, though, is saved for last. The anthology closes with the exquisite “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire. The story isn’t very “urban” but it is beautiful and bittersweet.

The other half of the stories, the ones set in preexisting urban fantasy worlds, would probably be better appreciated by someone wider read in that genre than me. While most do an okay job of bringing a new reader up to speed, the occasional exposition gets a little tiring. It also felt like many of these stories relied on the set up, “Favorite character from your favorite series goes to the carnival! Hijinx ensue.” Again, this is probably a lot of fun for readers that follow those series. For someone that doesn’t, the stories don’t seem to take enough advantage of the carnival setting.

One exception is “The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah Dawson. It is a “Blud Short Story,” but Dawson doesn’t bother explaining what that means, at least not at first and not at length. The main character and the reader are both thrown into the story, float or swim. Her steampunk world and theatrical characters seem utterly made for a mystical carnival.

The best stories of this anthology are very good. Even if you’re not a heavy reader of urban fantasy, this anthology is worth a look.

Carniepunk is set to be released July 23, 2013 by Gallery Books. (Reviewed early due to travel next week.)

Genre: Urban fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? Carnivals? Urban fantasy? Sounds good to me.
Format: Kindle eBook, Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: NetGalley