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Little Visible Delight
Little Visible Delight
Price: $3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Embrace Your Obsessions, March 21, 2014
Note: I received a free electronic copy for review purposes.

<i>Little Visible Delight</i> offers its writers the chance to talk about—and write about—their obsessions, which is a chance no writer can afford to turn down. After all, they’re doing it anyway. Nearly every writer has a set of obsessions. They may cultivate them, growing a garden of lush (and sometimes poisonous) stories, or they may ignore them, allowing these fixations to scatter through their body of work like weeds. But either way, these things take root, and take over. <i>Little Visible Delight</i> brings them all out into the open and as such, while the collection offers plenty of dark pleasure for the lay reader, it’s particularly interesting for writers or those with a fascination for the craft: here are some excellent horror authors talking about what they can’t stop talking about. It begs the question: what drives you? What permeates through you but gives you “little visible delight?”

If your obsession is quality horror anthologies, you’re in luck.

Unsurprisingly, many of the authors here demonstrate an obsession with stories themselves, but never in a way that is inaccessible for readers only. Lynda E. Rucker’s “The Receiver of Tales” is about the compulsion—sometimes awful, sometimes desirable—to be the vessel into which stories are poured. It’s also about the horror of wishes that come true—and about the hope of undoing the seemingly irrevocable, which is to say it has just about everything you could possibly fit into a story, a neat trick given its subject. Cory J. Herndon’s “Needs Must When the Devil Drives” is about time travel but, as Herndon makes clear in his author’s note, it’s also about storytelling and the drive to correct our mistakes, to retell and alter the narrative. In “Needs Must,” that attempt—or, rather, those <i>attempts</i>—lead to a Möbius strip of actions, twists, and consequences. Most of all consequences: needs must when the plot drives, after all. Every author knows that.

James Everington continues the theme later in the book with “Calligraphy.” Everington has written before about the overwhelming—and sometimes terrifying—power of words, which is fully on display here, but he’s also written about scapegoats, so I see twinned obsessions here, and ones that pair very well together in this story of a man who finds himself covered in writing: a blank canvas others have inscribed their lives upon. They’re both pleased and disgusted to see him. When he thinks he may have found absolution, instead he finds himself the vessel for others to rid themselves of their guilt: in some sense, this is about the horror of being the page all these stories are written upon. There’s a delicate touch of the weird here, from the church that may not meet on Sundays to the salmon-colored robes, that sets the stage for what eventually befalls poor Blake.

And as always, isolation is part of that sentence, because another theme of this collection is the way pain separates us from others, so that those most in need of help are least likely to receive it.

Which is not to say the characters themselves always realize that:

Kate Jonez’s “A Thousand Stitches” at first seems like the exception to that, as Jonez’s Laura Beatty is lively and vivacious even in the cramped setting of the going-downhill tailor’s she works in. But Laura carries more doubt—and more complications—around than the reader would initially guess, and the details of her world may be less solid and trustworthy than she thinks. It takes a thousand stitches to make a dollar, she tells us: all that work for so little reward. This is a story in part about all those stitches (and all those <i>dropped</i> stitches, let’s say) with no certain dollar coming at the end, but for all that, it is, as Jonez herself notes, surprisingly hopeful.

Maybe part of that hope stems from how Laura Beatty, like the narrator of Brent Michael Kelly’s “JP,” refuses to admit loss. “JP” is about—I hope!—a beloved pet dog and the lengths people will go to in order to preserve what they love. It has a nauseating, brilliant bit of body horror in it, and may have made me determined to watch how much I love my cat. Best to avoid our potential pitfalls when given clear warning.

More visibly and genuinely optimistic is Mary Borsellino’s “Kestrel,” where a girl who can’t feel physical pain—to the discomfort and horror of those around her—finds the escape (the agony and ecstasy, if you will) that many isolated people before her have found. For all its early gruesomeness, this is a story with heart, not just blood.

But not all of the characters in this collection are lucky enough to find some escape, whether real or imagined, from their fates. Johnny Worthen’s “The Point” is a darkly original story of an apocalypse that has never come and the man who has been waiting for it, obsessed by it, all his life. It has moments of pitch-black humor, but this underside of every tabloid headline is too knowing about the costs of fixation to provide any real laughs. Instead, it’s shiver-inducing, and a reminder that we will all be lucky if our own obsession don’t come with this kind of price tag.

“This Many,” by S. P. Miskowski has a similar keen eye for the distorting power of obsession, and Miskowski brilliantly couches her analysis—and her genuinely disturbing horror—in a pitch-perfect evocation of a suburban party. I have a soft spot for stories where holes get punched into the ordinary, and Miskowski excels at that and at showing where the ordinary itself is frayed, and where one mother’s overwhelming desire for perfection is unsettling long before anything supernatural appears.

“An Unattributed Lyric, in Blood, On a Bathroom Wall,” by Ennis Drake, is surreal from the get-go: like its title, it is a snapshot image of a strange and threatening world, one that consumes artists, especially, in this case, those without the stomach or the patience for the grind. Many of its images are powerful, but it’s weakened somewhat by Drake’s overdone afterword, which tries to explain too much rather than trusting in the story. In a collection about obsession, however, an inability to let things rest is certainly forgivable, and those enamored or intrigued by the seemingly unique ability of artists to self-destruct <i>en masse</i> may consider Drake’s essay a feature, not a bug.

The most horrific story of the collection for me was Mercedes M. Yardley’s “Black Eyes Broken,” where the innocent but cursed Natalia is systematically denied—by some unasked-for force residing inside herself—any comfort, love, or affection. The story covers the scope of Natalia’s life but focuses particularly on her attempt to discover a loophole in her situation. The reader’s sympathy for her and her dilemma is powerful, which only makes the story’s events more devastating.

Finally, the collection finishes with “Bears: a fairy tale of 1958,” an allegory that Steve Duffy has the good sense not to make a full allegory. Readers can see Duffy ringing the changes on stories of assimilation and prejudice, but nothing here provides a one-to-one connection, and Duffy is powerfully interested in bears as bears, not as stand-ins for humans, and in “Goldilocks” as a source of its own. This tale of bears in fifties suburbia is immensely readable, very moving, and a terrific way to close out the collection.

<i>Little Visible Delight</i> has a theme made for horror literature, a great set of authors, and a wide (and compelling) range of voices. The common threads throughout unify the stories and their concerns without providing sameness. And when you reach the last page, you’ll be thinking about what you’re always thinking about. That one thing in the back of your mind that you never quite let go of. The concern that highlighted certain phrases of this book against your eyes. What you’ll see tonight in your dreams—unless, of course, you’re seeing bears, a woman in bloodstained scrubs, words written on skin, a pet dog, or… Well, you get the idea. One of the best things about <i>Little Visible Delight</i> is that it lets you try on someone else’s obsession for a while. Which is, I have to say, a great relief from my own.


What Makes This Book So Great
What Makes This Book So Great
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $9.99

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book about Great Books, January 23, 2014
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In What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton talks (primarily) about rereading books, so it's only appropriate that the first time I read this book, I was rereading it, too: except for the first and last sections, everything here is from her excellent blog series on Tor.com, which I discovered a few years ago and read from beginning to end.

Walton has a clear, straightforward style that has, for me, what she describes as I-Want-to-Read-It-osity, the quality that makes it impossible to put a book down, but more than that, she's great at identifying the parts of books that might prompt you to pick them up: she doesn't describe Cherryh (ambiguity, difficulty, history going on and on) in the same way she does Delany (rich with mind-blowing ideas). She's enthusiastic and insightful, and has a gift for inventing and/or popularizing certain irresistible reading concepts, from incluing (the art of scattering in background worldbuilding) to the spearpoint (the moment in a book or series that gains its power from everything that's come before). She's incredibly useful--I cite her in conversations all the time, I'm sure it's very annoying for other people.

This is a great book for anyone interested in reading generally, especially since Walton includes general essay posts on reading as well as on specific books (skimming? Gulping or sipping? Do you have friends who have trouble grasping SF? Have any old favorites been ruined by the Suck Fairy's pernicious attention?), and it's obviously a great book for anyone interested in speculative fiction, who can revisit memories of classics, find unknown authors, and delight in the included complete-series looks at Brust and Bujold. But for me, this book bears particular significance: it was, in its earlier form, what got me back into reading science fiction and fantasy by providing not only recommendations but clear ideas of what I might and might not like, and some notion of the history and cross-pollination going on. Science fiction and fantasy can be an intimidating field for anyone outside of it, or even anyone who read it as a kid and then drifted away. Writers like John Scalzi have done a great job recently of writing potential entry points into SF, but for me, it's Walton who really opened the door, who described books in ways that let me figure out if I would like them or not, and who sent me to the library and the bookstore with reading lists as long as my arm. This book changed my life well before it even was a book, and I'm very glad to finally own a copy of it. If you pick it up, it might change your life, too, and invigorate your reading possibilities and make you recklessly spend a lot of money on expanding your bookshelves--but if it doesn't do that, it will at the very least provide you with some incredibly enjoyable hours of reading time.


The Hole
The Hole
Price: $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good, Scary Time, August 29, 2013
This review is from: The Hole (Kindle Edition)
I read this over the course of two days--when I went to bed on the first night, I had my theories about the hole that had inexplicably opened up in this small town, and when I finished the next evening, I saw how well Meikle piled development upon development and twist upon twist of logic. At times you'll be convinced the horror is supernatural... unless it's really science-fictional, or even just a natural disaster. The characters--a motley assortment ranging from the respectable (town doctor, town sheriff) to the affably disreputable (the two town drunks and day laborers, unexpectedly courageous, and the town busybody, unexpectedly resilient)--make understandable assumptions and proceed as best as they can in the face of the seemingly inexplicable.

It's a great premise--a giant hole appears, caving in the landscape and producing a high-intensity hum that gives the townspeople headaches and nosebleeds--and Meikle knows how to milk it as the tension steadily builds. This is great pulpy fun, but its characters and writing are all finer than that label would suggest and it is, quite simply, a good and scary time.


Shiftling
Shiftling
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unpredictable Delight, August 19, 2013
This review is from: Shiftling (Kindle Edition)
Steven Savile's Shiftling is a marvel and a must-read for anyone who feels that the horror genre is something they've grown too comfortably familiar with over the years. This isn't a book that resorts to cheap shocks or over-the-top violence to jar you out of your complacency, though--rather, Savile is intent on setting up situations you already know and then, with an eye towards naturalistic plot development rather than postmodernism genre-toying specifically, overturning them. You think you know the essentials of a horror story that begins with a handful of boys eager to see the funfair--you think you know it even more after they discuss how much better it will be after dark. But Savile's novel gestures towards these genre tropes before moving in entirely unexpected directions, and when I got to chapter two, I blinked, sat back a moment, and then grinned: while there's pleasure in well-worn roads, there's a thrill to having your expectations turned against you. This is a story about boys, but it's also a story about men, and if men with haunted childhoods also sounds familiar to you, rest assured that Savile has new material there, as well.

Appropriately for its title--and, without cheating, a certain aspect of its subject matter--Shiftling mutates and melts throughout, and what you think you know often isn't what's true. Timelines become difficult to determine, identity becomes an uneasy possible fiction, and the seeming urgency of establishing what happened is less important than the need to live in a world where things do shift (and often without your permission). It's a great, unsettling ride through this particular dark tunnel.


MARTYRS & MONSTERS
MARTYRS & MONSTERS
Price: $3.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nuanced Characterization, Stellar Writing, and Nightmares, November 27, 2012
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When a writer has thought out his stories as carefully as Dunbar clearly has, there's often the temptation to show that work to the reader in its fullest extent by drawing attention to the cleverness going on behind the page: Martyrs & Monsters has none of that. These stories and characters are rich and complex, and Dunbar trusts his readers' intelligence enough to allow them to stand on their own in all of their ambiguity, never coming on-stage himself to tell you what you should think and why. He simply creates and explores situations and the people involved in them, and leaves the conclusions and the interpretative possibilities up to the reader. I mention this only because so much fiction is manipulative, and so many authors intrusive, that Dunbar's quiet willingness to present his exquisitely detailed "this is what happened" stories and then step aside is absolutely remarkable and laudable.

Simply put, this is a writer who trusts his skills, trusts his readers, and trusts a multi-faceted concept of interpretation and understanding. Are these characters martyrs? Monsters? Both? Neither? He's not saying: instead, he's making you think, and wonder, and argue with yourself, pulling evidence from both sides to deal with the irresolvable complexities of all things human--and, of course, other.

To reward that kind of nonjudgmental complexity alone, I'd go buy the rest of the books.

Since the stories are excellent on every other level as well, I may as well just hand my wallet over to Robert Dunbar now.

"Getting Wet" has the sort of description that makes the room around you fade away: suddenly, you're exactly where Dunbar wants you to be. And you're who he wants you to be--Tim, caught in an ambiguous power play of a relationship, getting high, making decisions, and even longing (although for what, and for whom, are issues I would doubt Tim himself could fully explain). It's a tight story, claustrophobic not because of space but because of personal entanglements from which it's impossible to separate yourself. What it reminds me of most is William Gay's brilliant short story "Where Will You Go When Your Skin Will Not Contain You?".

"Like a Story" has a similar basis--two boys, both from the Home, one arguably protecting the other--but an entirely different angle. On an intellectual level, it's about stories and their ambiguous influence over the people who hear and tell them; on an emotional level, it's about love and responsibility; on a horror level, it's about all of those things--the sometimes terrifying power of fiction, the obligations of love and responsibility, and the chilling moment of someone realizing their impact on the people who love them.

"High Rise" is a good place to start discussing how remarkable Dunbar is at changing his writing style to fit the piece. There are differences between the lush Gothicism of "Getting Wet" and the more straightforward narration of "Like a Story," but "High Rise," which tells a story with interactions beyond the "closed world of two," is largely mimetic, centered around external details, until a shift at the end, where the style fittingly becomes much more fluid and the focus more internalized. This matters. Styles is often intensely personal and immutable, but Dunbar is able and willing to change it to best fit the stories that he's telling. That's rare and remarkable. He's also capable of giving a new twist to an old story and even to the theme we've seen previously in this collection--protection--to produce something fresh.

"Saturday Night Fights" has another dramatic style-shift, this time one entirely suited to conveying the story of two band-mates dealing with an attraction and a more unusual problem. It's a candy-colored punk rock-esque story with a sword collection and a giant cockroach: you couldn't get further from "Getting Wet" and still be in the same neighborhood. Both funny and fun.

"Gray Soil" and "Red Soil" are intertwined reimaginings of some familiar figures. Better than anything else I've read, these capture both the horror of implacability and the drive for survival. I don't want to say too much and give anything away in these cases, but suffice to say that there's a repeated word use, near the end of both, that gave me chills.

"Mal de Mer" is an eerie, unsettling story with Lovecraftian scope set to an elliptical Jamesian (Henry, not M. R.) style. As always, Dunbar's ability to evoke both external and internal landscapes is unparalleled: the result is an almost hallucinatory account of horror at the seaside and inside a young woman.

While I was reading "The Folly," I kept trying to think of how to describe it to someone. It's a weird fiction/comic horror/spunky feminist/quirky family hybrid that rarely surfaces in horror, where a large family with names pulled from classical mythology live together in a swamp in a house shaped like an alligator while a monster stalks around outside. If you liked that description, you will like the story. Like "Saturday Night Fights" it's fun, with a slight and hopeful hint of romance.

"Are We Dead Yet?" is an earlier snapshot of Con and Tim from "Getting Wet," and it adds even darker and more complicated backstory to their relationship. Tim's POV may be one of the more quietly bravura examples of how to write close third that I've ever seen. Everything here is colored by his senses and his perceptions of what's important and worth concern. Even in the overall excellence of the rest of the collection, I think this and "Getting Wet" are my favorite entries.

"Explanations," a tense, funny, and scary look at fandom--here predominantly of classic films--would make a close second, though. It has excellent details and it crackles with suspense right up until the excellent punchline.

"Killing Billie's Boys" is a look at cult rivalry and warfare, where all the decadence, sex, and even love don't lessen or alter the essential darkness of their service; "The Moon (Upside Down)" seems like that story inverted (fittingly enough) where love or some semblance of it exists despite the atmosphere around it, which, although not dark, is nonetheless restrictive and oppressive. It's a wonderful, subtle mainstream piece with great genre coloring around the edges.

"Away" is a complete psychological funhouse of paranoia and distrust, and even attempting to tell you its genre is spoiling it for you (and assuming it's possible to know for sure even by the end, which may be completely wrong).

"Full" throws the reader headfirst into a world where all the traditional monsters and occult symbols are real--and yet their reality seems somehow elusive, as though they are part flesh and part metaphor. It's a dark delight. (It's also as good a place as any for me to mention that Dunbar is consistently good at love and lust--even when the reader can wonder about the ultimate suitability of the attachment in question, as the other characters do in "The Moon (Upside Down)," the feelings themselves are always vividly realized.)

And we finish with "Only Disconnect," a haunting story where the only real sense of available peace comes at a horrible cost--and is only temporary.

This is already the longest review in the world, so I'll end simply by saying that this was an absolutely amazing collection, and that Robert Dunbar is exactly the kind of author the horror field needs in order to be taken seriously, and exactly the kind of author literature--regardless of genre--just needs.


The Pines
The Pines
Price: $3.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, Atmospheric, and Excellent, November 27, 2012
This review is from: The Pines (Kindle Edition)
The main character here isn't Athena, Matty, or even the Jersey Devil: it's the Pine Barrens.

Should they have a Board of Tourism, I assume that board will not be writing Robert Dunbar any thank you letters, since anyone who reads The Pines will do their best to stay as far away from the New Jersey Pine Barrens as humanly possible. When stories warn you not to go into the woods, it's Dunbar's pines they're talking about: dark, unsettling, and full of "monsters" both human and (possibly, arguably) inhuman. Wild dogs roam. Children are born without eyes (or even eye-sockets). And the Jersey Devil, leathery and animalistic, stalks through the trees.

The characters who aren't also setting are inarguably the product of their setting, and firmly grounded in it. One of my favorites was Pamela, a lonely and not especially bright woman living in a trailer so inaccessible that no car can take her to it, who cares fiercely for her disturbed nephew while effectively erasing her own institutionalized son from her memory, who longs for intimacy with her oft-imprisoned husband, and who at one point commits an act of almost-offhanded rape (the consent is dubious at best) out of lonesomeness and a desire for connection. She's a warning to the smarter but sometimes less-functional Athena ("crippled," black, and not a "piney" by birth) of what can happen to people who grow too rooted in this environment that breeds monstrousness, if not outright monsters. Because Pamela is sympathetic--at least frequently so--her brief slip into darkness is tragic and frightening, like the rest of her life, with too few avenues for connection and escape available.

It's the kind of trapped, hopeless life that allows people to dismiss the continuously mutilated bodies as being from attacks by wild dogs, and nothing else.

The heroism in the novel, therefore, is hard-won--it has to struggle against the miasma of the Pine Barrens and the more mulish pineys to even exist. Athena's always being told that she "thinks she's better than" her neighbors, and for much of the novel, she arguably isn't--smarter, yes, but just as trapped in the boundaries of her life. Her difficult, crawling arc is one of learning to be, at least, stronger than her neighbors, and more willing to accept things beyond the boundaries of the world.

If you're interested in an unsettling, atmospheric horror novel with an almost claustrophobic sense of dread and tremendously flawed, damaged characters--and if you're sick of the usual threats and, like me, are relatively unfamiliar with the Jersey Devil--then I highly recommend picking up The Pines.

But after you finish, you may want to take a long walk around outside, somewhere with no trees and plenty of sky, just to make sure you haven't slipped into the book's world.


The Wind Through the Keyhole (The Dark Tower)
The Wind Through the Keyhole (The Dark Tower)
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
205 used & new from $0.90

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece of Storytelling, April 26, 2012
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What you need to know first about "The Wind Through the Keyhole" is that it's three stories nested inside each other. The outer (and slightest) story is about Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake taking shelter from a brutal "starkblast" on their way to the Tower. While they're holed up for warmth, Roland narrates an adventure from his youth that provides perhaps our best and most straightforward depiction of what, exactly, being a gunslinger meant in the days before the world moved on--his trip to Debaria with his friend Jamie to find the skin-changer responsible for a series of brutal attacks. The inmost and most self-contained story is a Mid-World fairy tale that Roland tells to comfort and distract a boy who may hold the key to the skin-changer's identity. The story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure is important to know so that you aren't misled, going into the novel, into thinking that it's going to be a lengthier missing adventure of our most familiar ka-tet.

If you're fine with that, and eager to explore the world of the Dark Tower series even beyond its most familiar characters, then what you need to know next is that you're going to be absolutely delighted by "The Wind Through the Keyhole," which contains, quite simply, some of King's best and purest storytelling.

There's excitement, wonderfully and vividly described: the starkblast--a sudden and catastrophic winter storm that can literally freeze birds in the air and cause trees to explode--that forces our ka-tet into this cycle of stories in the first place is as perfectly horrifying yet wondrous as anything we've seen in Mid-World yet. And that's well before the reader gets to the skin-changer attacks and Tim Stoutheart's harrowing journey through the swamp (which comes with one of the most grotesque images I've encountered in years of reading King: I'll just say "spider eggs" and leave it at that). The characters all come with their own unique histories and attributes, and they all resonate, though I had a particular fondness for Peavy, the sheriff who aids Roland as he'd once aided his father, but whose world-weariness in the face of the skin-changer's brutality and, moreover, the daily stupidity he faces means that Debaria might soon be losing this powerful voice on its behalf: yet another example of the world moving on.

But the real thrill is the novel's voice, which is clear, powerful, and lyrical: the perfect tone to be narrating this strange series of stories. It never falters. In fact, its seeming effortlessness allows the reader to disappear into the story, pausing only to laugh or gasp.

This book is a pleasure that shouldn't be missed.


The Bone Key: The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth
The Bone Key: The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth
by Sarah Monette
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.95
42 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Low-Key Horror from a Great Writer, February 19, 2012
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It shouldn't be news by now that Sarah Monette writes absolutely brilliantly, but she's best known for her outstanding fantasy work (which deserves to be entirely, rather than only partially, in print), and I'd like to make a case for this collection of short stories getting some well-deserved attention from the horror community, too, who may not have discovered Monette yet.

Simply put, if you love M. R. James, you'll love this book: Kyle Murchison Booth is a direct descendant of James's buttoned-up academics who found themselves staring down supernatural forces, and the writing style is a deliberate echo of James's prose, as well. As you progress through these interconnected short stories, you see Booth encounter ghosts of all types, often with accompanying dusty pages of Things That Have Been Forgotten, and only his careful attention--and unique and sadly-earned ability to attract the strange--and quiet dedication can help put them to rest. Monette does a remarkable job with this type of "quiet horror"--things are always subtle, but never silent, and there are scenes and ideas in here, such as the ominous elevator in "The Wall of Clouds" or the trees in "The Inheritance of Barnabas Wilcox" that are almost excruciatingly terrifying in both their presentation and their implications. However, I want to make special mention of the effect this collection has as a sort of mosaic-novel about Booth himself.

He's an immensely likeable narrator--reserved, repressed, shy, but remarkably brave and occasionally very kind--and his loneliness, as reinforced over the course of these stories, is so painful that it became for me, at least by the end of "Drowning Palmer" almost another aspect of the overall horror. This is a man whose essential fear of people keeps coming so close to giving way into actual connection with people who genuinely seem to appreciate him--most notably Miss Coburn in "The Venebretti Necklace" and Ratcliffe in "Drowning Palmer", but most horribly in "Elegy for a Demon Lover"--only to be thwarted, somehow, and almost always off the page, between the stories themselves. Every time Booth makes a connection, he loses it again, slipping away from people he's bonded with, and I have enough respect for Monette to believe that this is deliberate, rather than a mere pressing of the "reset" button between stories. Booth is, as the back copy on my book notes, almost supernatural himself, and so the reader can see his continued separation from the rest of humanity as yet another sign of how damaged he's been by the events contained in and following from "Bringing Helena Back." As far as implications go, it's one of the subtlest and most horrifying that I've ever encountered.

This is, then, a stellar collection of horror fiction in the best M. R. James tradition, and I hope that anyone who gives the free sample portion a chance will go on to buy the rest of it, and therefore encourage Monette to produce more Booth stories as soon as possible.


Pages of Promises
Pages of Promises
Price: $0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Scary, Funny, and Smart, August 22, 2011
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This review is from: Pages of Promises (Kindle Edition)
"Pages of Promises" is so good that I almost feel guilty about getting such a great deal on it--if you're a horror fan with an e-reader, really, you can't afford not to buy this.

Other reviews have compared Price to Stephen King and Bentley Little, and I agree with both of those: he has King's gift for "ordinary folks" and both writers' talent for finding horror in the ordinary world (one of my favorite stories in this book involves a BBQ restaurant eating challenge gone horribly awry), but the writer he reminds me most of it the always-great Robert Bloch, in part because Stephen James Price writes the same kind of spectacular, memorable endings as Bloch. I'm hesitant to go into too much detail, because I certainly don't want to spoil anything, so let's just say that Price knows how to write a punchline better than pretty much anyone in the business--and they're not all the same type of ending, either, so you don't go into the story capable of predicting a twist simply by guessing that one's coming up. These are all different, but they're all excellent, and I smile/shiver when I think about them.

Price also does a great job with packing a lot of terror into a small implication. He doesn't shy away from violence--these stories aren't all exactly tame--but he also knows how to manage the art of the unseen and even the unsaid. One story in particular--the great "Damn, I Hate Stephen King"--left me blinking, wondering, "Does that mean what I think it means?" as one line jumped out at me. (It's a line that could be taken as either hilarious or horrific, and it's beautifully left up to interpretation.) The stories are also frequently and genuinely funny: "The 72 Ounce Challenge" and "Damn, I Hate Stephen King" in particular. But as much as I loved the whole book, I want to make special mention of two stories: "One Man's Angel" and "Man's Best Friend." For me, these stories are as original and effective as horror stories get--"One Man's Angel" is horror so rooted in the emotions we feel about luck and misfortune that it's probably really horror-tragedy in places, and "Man's Best Friend," while dealing with the common horror theme of the justified supernatural vengeance, is so well-crafted, and populated with such great details (for example, the wife in the passenger seat trying to press down on a brake that isn't there as her husband runs their car straight into a dog) that it's funny, spooky, and vivid.

If you care about horror, humor, and good storytelling, then keep your eye on Stephen James Price--I can't wait to see what he does next.


The Fate of Mice
The Fate of Mice
by Susan Palwick
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read (and Read, and Read...), June 16, 2011
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This review is from: The Fate of Mice (Paperback)
I've been wracking my brain over how to review this book, aside from grabbing passerby and random and asking them if they've read Susan Palwick yet. "And if not, what are you waiting for?" I love Palwick's novels, as well--she's a lovely, nuanced writer whose characters seem to go on living and breathing even after you close the book--but this short story collection was how I found her first, and it's stayed my favorite. There are eleven short stories here, and they're all gems.

Palwick has the gift of maintaining a distinct style of her own while still approaching many different subjects and types of stories--there's never the sense, as you're reading this, the next story will simply offer more of the same. There are continuities, of course: one of my favorite things about Palwick is the worldview that surfaces throughout the stories. So many authors seem to believe in "good" or "bad" worlds, where the evil is cartoonish and far away or the good is simplistic and blind to problems. Palwick isn't like that. An initially antagonistic character in "Going After Bobo" has more complexities--in a very believable way--that initially meet the eye, for example, and "GI Jesus" has a miracle occurring in exactly the right way but in what seems like exactly the wrong place after exactly the wrong things have happened in order to bring it about. These stories also have marvelous characters: Gestella, in particular, is unforgettable, but Palwick also brilliantly rewrites Jo March, everyone's favorite literary heroine (except the ways in which she isn't that tend, as "Jo's Hair" indicates, to be forgotten or dismissed).

It's hard writing about a short story collection without saying much about any of the individual pieces, but all of these sparkle, and I don't want to give the details of any of them away. So I'll just conclude by saying that if you like well-developed characters (and have ever mourned a dearth of well-developed female characters in literature in particular), realistic conflicts, and mind-expanding speculative fiction, you can't afford to pass on this collection.


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