Tag Archives: Short Story Reading Challenge

Kiss Me Deadly (Anthology) Part 3

Telep, Trisha (Editor). Kiss Me Deadly (2010). 430 Pages. RunningPress. $9.95

Review: Part 3 (Part 1, Part 2)

There is an awful lot to say about this anthology, so it has been split up into several parts. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 in their own posts. This book is definitely worth picking up, as it features several very good stories.

The anthology is the second to a “pair,” though the first half The Eternal Kiss is focused on vampires, and this is general paranormal. As I think I’ve said before, it features a lot of authors who I have never heard of, but there are at least a few whose other works I’ll be seeking out.

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Blood Lite (Anthology)

Anderson, Kevin J. (editor). Blood Lite (2009). 379 Pages. Pocket Books. $16.00

It’s very, very rare that I cannot finish a book. I made it through the first four stories, and gave up. I don’t foresee surviving the rest of this book at this pace.

It opened with Kelley Armstrong’s “The Ungrateful Dead,” which I did really enjoy. You do need to know the basics of her main series, because the main characters are Jaime and Savannah. Do I think that the book is worth picking up, considering all the other stories? Yes, as long as you’re not paying for it.

The second story, “Mr. Bear” by Joe R. Lansdale was a strange interpretation of Smokey the Bear, if he were a child star gone wrong. Jim runs into “The Bear” on an airplane, and gets dragged along on an adventure he never wanted to have. There are dead hookers, greased weenie pulls, and a lot more vulgar things. I don’t think I enjoyed a single thing about this story.

I figured it could only get better from there, and in a strange sort of way, it did. “Hell in a Handbasket” by Lucien Soulban. A mysterious baby is left on hell’s doorstep, and it messes with every demon it comes across. It ends with a huge poop joke. I was moderately entertained.

The fourth story, “The Eldritch Pastiche from Beyond the Shadow of Horror” by Christopher Welch, was trying too hard. Our narrator– an “I” who may be “Christopher”– has been writing what boils down to bad Lovecraft fanfiction, and struggling to get published most of his adult life. He attempts to find help, because it has ruined his life, and instead he finds out that he has a greater purpose.

After that, when confronted with the title of the next story: “Elvis Presley and the Bloodsucker Blues,” I gave up. I’d laughed once or twice while reading Kelley Armstrong’s story, and had not laughed since. I really wish I had enjoyed it, but I didn’t. I’d picked up the book expecting paranormal stories with a bit of funny, which the book failed to deliver.

In Conclusion:

I’m sure there are people out there who would enjoy this. People who like poop jokes and vulgar “humor.” I am not that audience. It gets a 1/5 for being unreadable. (It has a 3/5 rating on amazon.com).

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Mixed Magics (Anthology)

Jones, Diana Wynne. Mixed Magics (2000). 138 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $15.89

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci

This book satisfies two challenges, and fits into this week’s theme, which is a strange realization. Mixed Magics is a Chrestomanci-themed anthology which features four stories. Cat and Christopher show up in all of them, getting their fingers into the various tales and changing the way they play out.

In the first story, “Warlock at the Wheel,” we again meet the Willing Warlock from Charmed Life— this time, without his powers. Desperate for a new shot, he goes to a seedy wizard named Jean-Pierre, who sends him to another world. Things don’t go the way he expects, and he ends up with a new chance which revolves around a terrible job. Neither Christopher nor Cat actually show up in person, but their involvement reveals itself eventually.

“Stealer of Souls” has Cat and Tonino (from Magicians of Caprona), and a mystery that they have to get to the root of. Gabriel de Witt– Christopher Chant’s predecessor– makes an appearance as well, though he is a feeble old man at this point, and his lives are leaving him rapidly. In his moments upon his death-bed, Gabriel mentions something very important to Cat and Tonino– something which could help save them. There are cameos of quite a few characters from The Lives of Christopher Chant, which makes this a fun read if you’ve already read that story.

Next is “Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream” which was a very surreal story, actually. It didn’t quite feel like it fit within the Chrestomanci universe, though apparently Christopher gets involved in this story as well. I don’t really like Carol, I think she’s a very annoying character. However, the idea behind the story, and the plot itself is absolutely fascinating. I couldn’t stop mid-story to put this one down for anything. I don’t want to say much, because it is a very short story, but Carol Oneir is something like a star-director of dreams; she controls best-selling dreams which are recorded and released to the public for mass consumption. When she gets to her hundredth dream, however, she stalls, and ends up speaking with Chrestomanci. (Ok, so maybe I said much, but I don’t think I spoiled anything…)

The last story in the book is “The Sage of Theare,” which has a very mythological flavor to it. The gods of Theare are obsessed with order, and so have a major crisis when they realize that they have prophesied that Theare will fall upon the arrival of the Sage of Dissolution. One of the gods believes that the sage might be his son, and so he dumps his son in another world. (It just happens to be Chrestomanci’s world, conveniently.) This story is interesting, but a bit forgettable.

In Conclusion:

Diana Wynne Jones is a fabulous author with a knack for strong prose and realistic characters. The fact that these stories are in Chrestomanci’s world without being about the reigning Chrestomanci is impressive, and makes them quite enjoyable. When all is said and done, I did not enjoy “Warlock at the Wheel” or “The Sage of Theare” all that much, and so this volume only gets a 4/5.

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Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits

McKinley, Robin & Dickinson, Peter. Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits (2009). 297 Pages. Penguin Young Readers. $19.99

I never really thought about the possibility that a husband & wife team could actually write together in a cohesive way. I suppose I was working under the theory that one would ride on the other’s coattails, and the book would be a failure. Clearly, that was a poor assumption, as both Peter Dickinson and Robin McKinley are strong writers in their own right, and both have brought significant contributions to this anthology.

There are five stories in this volume, though there might once have been six. But that was before both Sunshine and Chalice became full-length novels, instead of  novellas or short stories, suitable for inclusion. Three stories are by Peter Dickinson; “Phoenix,” “Fireworm,” and “Salamander man.” Two are by Robin McKinley; “Hellhound” and “First flight.” I have to say that I loved every single story, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite.

The volume opens with “Phoenix,” which takes a while to really unravel, but as it moves along, it reveals itself nicely. In a park in England there is a small preserve- Dave’s Wood. It is here that Ellie meets a boy, one who knows far more about the animals and trees in that little patch of forest than any child has time to know. The story isn’t about Ellie, rather, it is revealed to her by the Phoenix’s companions. There’s a lot going on, and there are a few surprises (though more of the “ooh, that’s nice” than the “omg what just happened” variety.) It was well-written, and very nicely paced.

I’m clearly biased to like Robin McKinley’s stories, so I doubt it’s a surprise that I loved “Hellhound.” Especially since I read her blog, and know that she refers to her own dogs as Hellhounds.*Our main character is Miri, a teenage girl who grew up helping at her family’s stable– cleaning, helping with horses, teaching riding lessons, and leading trail rides. Things begin to change when Miri graduates high school, and goes to the pound to adopt a dog. There she meets Flame, a dog she calls “hellhound” because of his solid red eyes. Some rather magical things happen, and Miri’s relationship with Flame enables her to save her brother from death.

If I had to say I had a least-favorite story in this volume, it would be “Fireworm,” which is about a rather primitive tribe and their nemesis; the fireworm. Tandin is an outcast in his tribe, because nobody knows his father, because of this, he holds no rank, and must sleep further from the fire than any other man in the tribe. Perhaps it is because he is so far from the fire that he wakes one night, to realize that the fireworm has appeared beneath their fire. He manages to save the tribe, and learns that he is to become a spirit walker– a sort of shaman. Because of insights he gains in the spirit world, he is able to help his tribe to defeat the fire worm at last. There are emotional consequences for characters, and I’m not sure I really liked the story. There were too many chances for Tandin to change course, chances which he ignored in favor of killing.

After “Fireworm” came “Salamander man” which was an interesting story. Tib has always known a life of slavery, and he has always served Aunt Ellila– a fact in which he was lucky, as the old woman actually cared for him. He helps her with her market stall, moving it, assembling it, and guarding it for her every day. Everything changes when a magician arrives, and forces Aunt Ellila to sell Tib. Desperately, the old woman gives Tib the one thing she can give; a salamander arm-band. However, despite the fact that most magicians are evil, this one is not, and has other plans for Tib. A lot of this story is told, rather than shown, but I feel like it’s solid nonetheless. The story was interesting, and I found myself caring what happened to Tib, and hoping things went well for the boy.

The volume closes with “First Flight” which is the longest of all the stories. Ern’s parents had his life planned out for him from the very beginning. His eldest brother Dag was to be a dragon rider. His second brother was a spiritspeaker, and Ern, the youngest son, was to be a wizard. In a lot of ways, this works out for everyone, the story isn’t about them chafing against their roles, rather, it is about how they embrace them. Though there is a middle brother, the story is more about Ern and Dag than the third sibling (whose name I cannot even recall). Ern has a talent for healing, though he denies it to himself constantly. He has a pet foogit (which is somewhere between a dog and a dragon) that he saved during its puppyhood. This ends up being very significant. A lot happens, and I don’t want to say too much about it because there is so very much to give away, but Ern goes to the Dragon Academy with his brother Dag, not quite knowing what he would do, but hoping to do something to help.

The Quick Version:

With five very solid stories by two very talented authors, this anthology is definitely worth reading. It is the second book in what should eventually become four elemental anthologies. Every story is a nice read, and they work well together as a set. It gets a solid 5/5.

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* They look almost exactly like I would expect Hellhounds to look, too.

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My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (Anthology)

Elrod, P.N. My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2008). 358 Pages. St Martin’s Griffin. $13.95

I like trade paperbacks, they’re big, and they feel solid when you hold them. However, they’re tough on my style (what little there is) because while most of my purses are chosen for their ability to carry a book, mass market paperbacks are more common, and fit into more of my purses more easily. I checked this book out well over a month ago, and have been slowly reading it, trying to get through it, and wondering why it was so very difficult to read. I’ve decided that it is because of its format, and the fact that it is so very hard to fit it into my purse, so I haven’t been taking it to work for lunch-time reading.

Anyway, this is a very solid volume with a lot of stories that I really enjoyed. I sort of wish I’d read My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding first, but this was an impulse grab from a bookshelf, so I didn’t realize there was another volume in this set. (Though it’s hardly a prequel/sequel pair, as most of the stories are unique from the first volume, though I hesitate to call them stand-alones.) Continue reading

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Sword & Sorceress (Anthology, #22)

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress XXII (2007). 269 Pages. Norilana Books. $9.95

I don’t know if I mentioned that I come from a town with a one-room library. It was the first floor of an old victorian, and it didn’t really have much in the way of books. My school had a library, and in elementary school, I believe I managed to read their entire collection, and then some. It was my preferred place to spend lunchtime. I’ve never had a library card before. (Small towns, they just write down your name, because they know you.) When I moved to the Bay Area, I had a school-ID library card, and then I got my first non-school card from the San Leandro Public Library, which was very exciting. I discovered that you can put books on Hold, and when you come in, they’re waiting for you.

I have abused this power to no end. I have a 20-book-long hold list, and every time I come in to turn some in, I’ve got more waiting. It makes life more fun, I think. (It also means that when I go to the library, I can limit myself to the holds shelves so I don’t leave with more than I can read in 2 weeks.)

Oh, there was a point to all this. Because I get my books by putting them on hold, I don’t really get to know what format the book is going to be in when I get there. (Or what shape– there have been several books that I’ve wanted to repair quite badly, but when I left the library*, I lost my access to book-repair and book-binding supplies.) Every other Sword & Sorceress novel has been a mass market paperback, but apparently when they switched publishers, they switched formats. Sword & Sorceress XXII is edited by Elizabeth Waters**

Anyway, there are sixteen stories in this volume, so as I’ve done in the past, I’ll choose a few that really stood out.

I’m going to start at the back of the book with Sarah Dozier’s “The Menagerie.” It’s a good story, and it entertained me, except that it is so very, very similar to “Oulu” by Aimee Kratts, which was in volume XXI. It’s forgivable to use similar stories more than once in a series, but to do so in two volumes which are back-to-back is a problem. Yes, they do take very different approaches to a similar twist, but that does not make them sufficiently different from each other.

“Night Watches” by Catherine Soto re-introduces Biao Mei and Lin Mei– a pair of siblings who made their first appearance in Sword & Sorceress XXI (though, in a story I didn’t review). There was a hint of magic last time, but this time it becomes a bit more blatant; there are magical beings mincing around in this story. (And a bit of political intrigue.) In the first story, it was hinted that these siblings were seeking… something. We haven’t learned what by the end of this story, but it’s led us a little deeper into their world. I am very interested to see where they go, and what is going on with their world.

“Vanishing Village” by Margaret L. Carter has a little bit of a twist, and features a story that’s not quite what you expect. I don’t know how to say a whole lot more without saying too much, but there’s an interesting spell which made this town “vanish.”

Kimberly L. Maughan’s “The Ironwood Box” starts with a form of magic I’ve never read about, as well as a unique political system. It’s a little reminiscent of Robin McKinley’s Beauty or Rose Daughter in that there are three sisters living in a cottage in the forest. I suppose that’s not a very strong parallel, but one makes me think of the other. The characters are interesting, and their story intriguing, making this one of the hilights of the volume.

Dave Smeds has one of the more unique stories with “Bearing Shadows,” which I read while on BART. Aerise loses everything when her baby glows in her belly. It is a mark that she is carrying the child of a Cursed One, something which she is cast out of her village for. Not knowing what to do, and afraid for herself (and to a degree, the unwanted child she is carrying), she goes to the Cursed Ones for help. Slowly, she comes to understand why she was chosen, but she never quite forgives. It’s a very emotional story, with what I hesitate to call a happy ending, though it is hopeful.

When I was a kid, I had a book of short stories which included “The Lady, or the Tiger” which I found to be infuriating. When I later found its sequel, I was only more annoyed. To put it simply, “The Decisive Princess” by Catherine Mintz left me far, far more satisfied by the end of the story. I don’t want to say a lot more, because there isn’t a lot to say without spoiling it, but it’s a very good short story.

One of the darker stories in the series is “Tontine” by Robert E. Vardeman– a lone mercenary enters a bar, and proceeds to drink a very special bottle of wine. There are five glasses worth of wine, added to the bottle by herself and her four friends in their youth. With each glass, she not only remembers her fallen comrades, but relives their deaths through their eyes. Then, Jonna drinks her own glass, and without us ever knowing what she saw, she leaves the bar, off on journeys unknown. It’s brilliant, and unique, and like nothing I ever expected.

The Quick Version:

Elizabeth Waters is not Marion Zimmer Bradley, but she manages to continue the series with the same sort of spirit as her mentor. A lot of the stories were very good, though a few fell flat. It scores a 3.5/5, because there were some very, very good ones, but one too many were mediocre or forgettable enough that I don’t remember them today.

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* During College, I worked in the Library, and was a Periodicals and Processing Student Assistant. (Long title, I know.) The very best part about this job was getting to repair the really old books. The coolest one ever was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in large-format hard-back from the 19th century. It had the etchings in it. We got to re-do the binding, and it was the most amazing, satisfying, and fun thing I’ve ever done. Because when you’re done, you’ve helped preserve history, and while you’re doing it, you’re engaged– your mind, your hands, and all your skills. Ok, I think I should stop dorking out about book repair, because there aren’t a lot of people who share that passion with me.

** Elizabeth Waters was apparently Marion Zimmer Bradley’s editorial assistant from Sword & Sorceress II until she died. Ms Waters is about as close as you can get to MZB’s editorial style, so they chose her to continue the series. It works, I think.

This Book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge! It is part of the Short Story Reading Challenge!

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Unexpected Magic (Anthology)

Jones, Diana Wynne. Unexpected Magic (2004). 590 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $7.99

There are 16 stories here (fifteen of which are short stories, and one of which is a novella), all written by Diana Wynne Jones (which of course means that they’re fabulous). The highlight of the book is definitely the novella at the end, but all of the short stories are fun, and a bit witty with just a hint of magic. Of course, with a title like Unexpected Magic, one expects a lot of magic, and this book is certainly not disappointing. Despite the fact that the magic is entirely expected, it does find new and creative ways to manifest itself, ways which are certainly not what you thought they would be without feeling like a forced twist. For the sake of space, I’m attempting to keep the blurbs brief (bear with me where I fail.)

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