December 13, 2004
McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories edited by Michael Chabon

McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories edited by Michael Chabon: a collection of literary short stories that is touted as “stay-up-all-night, edge-of-the-seat, fingernail-biting, (and) page-turning” that I ultimately found to be uneven at best.

These stories are supposed to blur the line between genres, but with a few exceptions (most notably “7C” by Jason Roberts), I didn’t find that too many of them fit that bill. While several of the stories were very good, others were not of the caliber that I would have suspected given the talent that wrote them.

"7C" by Jason Roberts is a blend of horror and science fiction that I needed to reread again to truly appreciate. Jonathan Lethem’s “Vivian Relf” was also interesting and I particularly enjoyed it since I have one of those faces that is always causing people to ask, “Don’t I know you?” Other stellar stories were China Mieville’s “Reports of Certain Events in London,” "Minnow" by Ayelet Waldman, Poppy Z. Brite’s “The Devil of Delery Street,” and “Delmonico” by Daniel Handler. I think I would have liked “The Fabled Light-House of Vina Del Mar” by Joyce Carol Oates more if it would have been tighter.

My favorite in the collection was “Lisey in the Madman” by Stephen King. I am a huge Stephen King fan and despite my disappointment in the last Dark Tower book, I felt that this story was a return to the King that I know and love. I would be delighted if the rumor that this is actually a snippet from a yet unpublished book turns out to be true. I would love to know more about Lisey and Scott Landen’s lifes.

An uneven collection in all since I didn’t like some of the stories at all (Peter Straub’s “Mr. Aickman’s Air Rifle” being my least favorite), but still with enough good ones to make picking this book up worthwhile.

November 12, 2004
Gates of Eden by Ethan Coen

Gates of Eden by Ethan Coen: a collection of short stories by the creator of such movies as Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, and, one of my personal favorite movies of all time, The Big Lebowski.

Being a big fan of the all of the movie that the Coen brothers have done, I was very excited to see that Ethan Coen had written a book of short stories (anthologies have always been one of my favorite things to read). I figured that the strikingly strange characters that populate their movies would have no problem coming to life on the pages of a book.

Unfortunately, I could never get interested in either the people or their situations, with the exception of a few of the stories. These stories just never came to life for me the way that they have on the big screen.

The stories that I did enjoy were A Fever in the Blood (a private detective goes deaf after having his ear biten off by a by a deranged thug), I Killed Phil Shapario (a Jewish son kills his father, though I’m really not sure why), and Gates of Eden (a weights and measures man is seduced by a beautiful Japanese lady for nefarious reasons).

All in all, I was greatly disappointed iwith this anthology. The book did get good reviews over at Amazon.com however, so you might like it even if I didn’t.

July 13, 2004
Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor)

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor): a collection of fairy tales written especially for adults.

Datlow and Windling are some of the best editors, especially in the horror and fantasy fields, that almost any book they put together is wonderful and this one is no exception. As Ellen Datlow herself says, there’s nothing new in this collection in regards to the themes of the stories since in literary fairy tales, uniqueness and novelty are besides the point. However, even with nothing new, these stories are still amazing.

The stories themselves range from light fantasy to darkly horrific and are retellings of such well-known tales as “Beauty and the Beast,” "Sleeping Beauty," “The Little Match Girl,” "The Wizard of Oz," and more. Even though we may be familiar with these tales, the authors invariably give each one a bit of their own style or idea and it becomes something entirely different in most cases.

Personal favorites in this anthology included “The Beast,” "Masterpiece," “Roach in Loafers,” "Brother Bear," “The Real Princess,” "The Huntsman’s Story," “Match Girl,” "Waking the Prince," “The Fox Wife,” "The White Road," and “The Printer’s Daughter.”

October 27, 2003
Cannibals of the fine Light by Simon Brown

Cannibals of the fine Light by Simon Brown: a short story collection from an Australian author that never quite lived up to its potential.

These stories, set in a not-to-distant future, almost all revolved around biochips planted in people’s brains and their relationships with other humans, machines and animals.

For the most part, I didn’t really enjoy too many of the stories. I wanted to know more about the time and place that they happened in. Kind of like with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, I felt that I was missing key elements as to why people did the things that they did. I just never really felt myself drawn into the story.

Saying that, however, I did enjoy a few of them. They were “The Mind’s Eye,” "The Final Machine," “Brother Stripes,” "Rain From the New God," and “The Truth in Advertising,” a clever little co-written piece that made reading the book worth it. Not really recommended, but fans of anthologies may find enough gems in here to make mining the book worth it.

August 20, 2003
Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies by Robert Bloch

Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies by Robert Bloch: the first posthumous collection of his work since Bloch died in 1994. These stories are from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. Many of them have not been anthologized before, so this is a chance to see one of the masters of the genre from his early days.

I’ve always enjoyed Robert Bloch’s work (he’s probably best well-known for being the author of Psycho and the story Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper) and was delighted to get this anthology of his early work. For the most part, I enjoyed the stories, though some of them seemed fairly obvious in their ending. Seventy years ago, though, I bet they really packed a punch.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good short story both for the excellent writing and the novelty of seeing older stories that influenced many of today’s writers.

My particular favorites from this collection included Death is an Elephant, Question of Identity, Death Has Five Guesses, The Bottomless Pool, Flowers From the Moon, He Waits Beneath the Sea, Be Yourself, Black Bargain, A Bottle of Gin, Soul Proprietor, Satan’s Phonograph, The Man Who Told the Truth, and The Night They Crashed the Party.

August 14, 2003
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman: when I was in high school I read the most amazing short story ever that was about a murdered angel. It was in this great little anthology that I somehow misplaced and was never able to find again. About five years ago I came across the short story again in one of the ever-excellent Years Best Fantasy and Horror collections. Over the years the story has stayed with me, though never the name or the author. Imagine my delight when, while coming to the end of this amazing collection, I find it contained within.

Neil Gaiman has always been a favorite of mine through both his short stories and his novels (especially American Gods), so I can’t describe how happy it made me that he wrote one of the best short stories that I have ever read (the title, by the way, is Murder Mysteries).

I simply can not recommend Gaiman, especially this collection, highly enough. Everything that he writes is pure magic. There’s heartbreak, there’s happiness, there’s sorrow, and there’s joy, but the most important this is that his stories always ring true.

Pick this up as soon as you can. It is not to be missed. Forgive me if this review seems a bit disjointed, but I am so excited that the title of that missing anthology was mentioned and I have been able to find it again.

Favorite stories of mine from this collection are Chivalry, The Price, Don’t Ask Jack, The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories, Queen of Knives, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar, Bay Wolf, Mouse, Desert Wind, Babycakes, the aforementioned Murder Mysteries, and Snow, Glass, Apples.

July 31, 2003
The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque by Joyce Carol Oates

The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque by Joyce Carol Oates: normally I love anthologies and enjoy reading them greatly, but this one was an exception.

I’ve mentioned before that while I don’t mind “vague” stories - stories where you don’t really know what’s going on, who the people are, or why they’re there - full books of them always are tedious for me to make my way through. Unfortunately, most of the stories is The Collector of Hearts were of the vague kind, so I didn’t really enjoy the book and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

There were some good stories in it - notably “The Sky Blue Ball,” "Death Mother," “Schroeder’s Stepfather,” "The Sepulchre," “The Sons of Angus Macelster,” "The Affliction," “Unprintable,” "Valentine," and “The Crossing.” Mostly these stories had less of a vagueness to them and I felt it easier to connect to the characters.

All in all, not a bad book, but not really recommended unless you’re a fan of the short story or of her.

July 27, 2003
Books of Blood (Volumes One to Three) by Clive Barker

Books of Blood (Volumes One to Three) by Clive Barker: I hadn’t reread any of Clive Barker’s books in quite some time, so when a co-worker and I ended up discussing some of his short stories, I had to immediately re-purchase the Books of Blood and immerse myself back into Clive Barker’s world.

These stories are extremely visceral and it’s easy to see why the term “splatterpunk” was coined with this type of writing in mind. His stories are very graphic and seem to have an underlying theme behind them - even though something horrible may be incredible horrible (a pig that speaks with a dead boy’s voice, for example), these events are still awe-inspiring in the truest since of the word and the way that the human mind reacts to them can be widely different than one would expect.

To me, Barker’s stories herein (and in most of his other work), the world exists with a veil that can be drawn away at any time. When I got done watching The Matrix for the first time, I was struck with the similarities between that world and the worlds that Barker creates.

Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy all of these stories as much as I did when I read them probably a little over ten years ago. However, many of them were still as strong and as moving as they were then. The best of these are “The Book of Blood,” "The Midnight Meat Train," “In The Hills, The Cities” (probably my favorite story of his ever), “Dread,” "Hell’s Event," “Jacqueline Ess: Her Last Will and Testament,” "The Skins of the Fathers," “Son of Celluloid,” and “Rawhead Rex.”

If you like your stories strong and disturbing this collection is for you. If not, may be best that you skip, but you’ll never know until you try.

February 24, 2003
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fourteenth Annual Collection by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor)

The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Fourteenth Annual Collection by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor): I’ve never reviewed one of these books before, but if you’re a horror or fantasy lover, all fifteen volumes of this collection is a must for you. One of my happiest days as a bibliophile is when I found the last volume I needed to complete the collection online at Alibris. I even sent the found of the company an e-mail because these books are so important to me as a reader.

These books are very large - around seven hundred pages. Not only do you get over 500 pages of the best stories of the year, you also get a summation of fantasy for the year (reviews of books, poetry, and music offerings, mostly. A great place to find books that you might have missed otherwise. I have found some excellent works that had slipped below my radar through these reviews), a summation of horror, Fantasy and Horror in the Media (an excellent way to find a good movie), comics for the year, and an obituary section.

You will never find anthologies as fine as these and this volume was no exception. They simply sparkle with magic, contain horror to chill you to the bone, and every other emotion in between. Most of the stories that I carry around with me in my heart always, have been read in these volumes.

My favorite stories included Incognit, Inc. (Harlan Ellison), Le Mooz (Louise Erdrich), Granny Weather (Charles de Lint), Greedy Choke Puppy (Nalo Hopkinson), Achilles' Grave (Ben Pastor), Down Here in the Garden (Tia V. Travis), Riding the Black Horse (Elizabeth Engstrom), Mr. Dark’s Carnival (Glen Hirschberg), The Cavemen in the Hedges (Stacey Richter), The Penny Drops (Ian Rodwell and Steve Duffy), Buttons (Claudia Adrizola), The Artificial Cloud (Justin Tussing), The Pottawatomie Ghost (Andy Duncan), George is All Right (Howard Wandrei), The Abortionist’s Horse (A Nightmare) (Tanith Lee), The Heidelberg Cylinder (Jonathan Carroll), Gone (Jack Ketchum), The Flaying Season (Jeffrey Thomas), Bone Orchards (Paul J. McAuley), and Hallowmass (Esther M. Friesner).

I simply cannot recommend these books enough to all readers, not just those of horror and fantasy.

January 25, 2003
October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween by Richard Chizmar (Editor) and Robert Morrish (Editor)

October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween by Richard Chizmar (Editor) and Robert Morrish (Editor): A Halloween anthology with a twist. Not only do you get great Halloween stories, but authors and illustrators recall their favorite Halloween memories as well. I particurally loved Jack Ketchum’s memory - what a wonderful idea! Some of the better stories include ones by Jack Ketchum, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub.

The Collection by Bentley Little

The Collection by Bentley Little: I read Bentley Little’s The Walking about two years ago and was very disappointed. It received hype all over the place, but I could just never get into it. I picked The Collection up on the off-chance that maybe his short stories would be better and they definitely were. I was impressed with almost every story in the book and it was well worth the $3.50 I paid for it in a used bookstore. Favorite stories from the book include Bob, Life with Father, The Sanctuary, and my favorite, The Washingtonians.

The Best of Cemetery Dance: Volume II by Richard Chizmar (Editor)

The Best of Cemetery Dance: Volume II by Richard Chizmar (Editor): another collection of short stories from the magazine Cemetery Dance. Pretty good, but not as good as the first collection. The best of the collection are “Eater,” "Vacation," “A Taste of Blood and Altars,” "Almost Never," and “Comes the Night Wind, Cold and Hungry.” Interesting side note, but the page numbers actually start where the first collection left off. I hadn’t seen that before.

The Death Artist by Dennis Etchinson

The Death Artist by Dennis Etchinson: some good stories (The Dog Park, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine), but for the most part I found too many of them to be kind of vague and I didn’t really like them. While I don’t mind an ambiguous story every now and then, a whole book full of them wasn’t really to my taste.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet : Horror Stories by Richard Matheson

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet : Horror Stories by Richard Matheson: another collection of Richard Matheson’s short stories with an introduction from Stephen King. I had most of the stories before, but there were some good ones in there (The Holiday Man, Wet Straw, and The Children of Noah) that I hadn’t read before.

Everything's Eventual by Stephen King

Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King: King’s latest collection of short stories. Includes some really great one (The Man in the Black Suit, Everything’s Eventual, The Little Sisters of Eluria, The Road Virus Heads North). 1408 has got to be one of the scariest stories I’ve read in a long time. Unfortunately, I had read most of these in other sources, but it was nice to have them all in one place.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson: excellent collection from on the great horror writers. The title novella is especially good