WAR STORIES: NEW MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION Edited by Jayme Gates & Andrew Liptak – Review

war stories 3d

War Stories: New Military Science Fiction edited by Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak
Genre: Adult science fiction anthology
Publisher: Apex Books
Release date: October 2014
Source: Finished paperback from publisher
Pages: 360

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A diverse and well-written collection that gets to the heart of what it means to go to war.

I always look forward to reading short story collections from Apex Books, and I’m thrilled to report that I enjoyed this one immensely. I don’t normally seek out books about combat and the military, but I was interested to see how adding a science fiction angle would affect the way I view stories about war. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Although I didn’t love every story, I did enjoy most of them, and flat-out loved four of them. I was also surprised to find that the ones I loved the most were written by unfamiliar-to-me authors.

Editors Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak did an amazing job of pulling together just the right combination of hard military, horror, and more reflective and emotional stories. The collection begins with a Nebula Award-winning short story by Joe Haldeman called Graves, which is eerily gruesome, a story that made me want to look away but compelled me to keep reading. It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the collection, telling the story of a man who worked in Graves Registration in Vietnam, and the nightmares he suffers twenty years later after seeing a very unusual body.

The anthology is broken into four parts: Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force and Aftermath. There are twenty-three stories in War Stories, and for the sake of time and space, I am going to share with you my top eight favorites. That isn’t to say that the others aren’t good—they are. But sometimes you have to pick you favorites, and this is one of those times!

War Dog by Mike Barretta. This was my very favorite of the bunch! It’s a beautiful and sad story about a retired soldier who falls in love with a Dog, a genetically modified human. Set in a post-war Christian-ruled society, humans are threatened by fungal infected humans called “‘shrooms.” I loved Barretta’s writing, and I loved the way he captured the sadness and inevitability of war.

Suits by James Sutter. Wow, I loved this one too! Two innocent android “techs,” whose job it is to repair the huge suits worn in combat (think Avatar), get a harsh lesson in exactly what happens in war. This story was touching and emotional.

Ghost Girl by Rich Larson. A war vet tries to save a “ghost girl”—an albino—who lives with a robot who she claims is her dead father. It was brutal and sad and brilliantly written.

The Radio by Susan Jane Bigelow. A “synthetic” soldier is stranded after her unit is destroyed by a bomb and the Army appears to have forgotten about her. But some local residents take her in and give her hope for a new life. Sweet and moving.

The Wasp Keepers by Mark Jacobsen. In a post-war society, citizens are watched by mechanical wasps, who take brutal action at the smallest infraction. This story makes you think about the meaning of the word “freedom” and how it means different things to different people.

Invincible by Jay Posey. I wasn’t surprised how much I enjoyed this, since I’m a huge fan of Jay’s novels. In this story, a group of fighters are given new life every time they die. It explores the consequences of never actually dying, and the feelings of despair from a war that feels never-ending.

Light and Shadow by Linda Nagata. I loved this story! In a future war, soldiers wear special skull caps that block emotions in order to make them better in combat. But one soldier decides she doesn’t want to live her life without anger, and so she stops wearing her cap. Like many of these stories, this one explores human rights and how little freedom we really have.

Mission. Suit. Self. by Jake Kerr. I really enjoyed this story about a soldier who learns the hard way the meaning of the word “mission” when he decides to go against orders to keep a village from being destroyed.

Other stories in the collection are: In the Loop by Ken Liu; Contractual Obligation by James L. Cambias; Non-Standard Deviation by Richard Dansky; All You Need by Mike Sizemore; The Valkyrie by Maurice Broaddus; One Million Lira by Thoraiya Dyer; Warhosts by Yoon Ha Lee; In Loco by Carlos Orsi; Coming Home by Janine Spendlove; Where We Would End a War by F. Brett Cox; Black Butterfly by T.C. McCarthy; Always the Stars and the Void Between by Nerine Dorman; Enemy States by Karin Lowachee; and War 3.01 by Keith Brooke.

It’s also worth noting that this book was a crowd-funded project, as all 357 backers’ names are listed at the end!

If you love military fiction, you’ll love this anthology. And even if you don’t, you’ll love this anthology! War is not going away anytime soon (and won’t in the future either, according to these writers), and War Stories is a reminder of that. Each story will entertain you, but will also make you think and reflect about our sometimes tenuous relationships with other nations and races.

Big thanks to Apex Books for supplying a review copy!

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Waiting on Wednesday [130] – KAREN MEMORY by Elizabeth Bear

WOW 2014 copy

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a fun way to share upcoming books that we’re excited about with other bloggers and readers. Gosh, only a few more WoWs left in 2014! As we all know, 2015 promises to be a fantastic year for book lovers, so I look forward to lots of WoW posts next year as well.

This week I’m excited about:

Karen Memory

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. Releases in February from Tor Books. Elizabeth Bear is a HUGE name in science fiction/fantasy, and this book looks different from her usual books. Plus, check out the octopus on the cover! And that girl looks like she’s ready to shoot someone, so sign me up! Here’s what Goodreads says:

“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Hugo-Award winning author Elizabeth Bear offers something new inKaren Memory, an absolutely entrancing steampunk novel set in Seattle in the late 19th century—an era when the town was called Rapid City, when the parts we now call Seattle Underground were the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes bringing would-be miners heading up to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront. Karen is a “soiled dove,” a young woman on her own who is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts into her world one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, seeking sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper-type story of the old west with the light touch of Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

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What are you waiting on this week? Let me know!

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Tammy’s Top Ten Adult Books of 2014

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It’s that time of year, time to make all sorts of “best of” lists! I love making lists anyway, but when I get to look back over a year’s worth of reading and rave about the books that really stood out for me, that’s got to be my favorite sort of list-making. This week I’m highlighting my top ten Adult books of the year, and next Tuesday I’ll be listing my top ten Young Adult books, so don’t forget to stop back next week. I really tried to cut one of these out, but in the end, I just couldn’t choose. So yes, I have eleven books on this Top Ten list:-) So, here they are, my Top Ten Eleven Adult Books of 2014! (in no particular order)

most beautifully written white

Station Eleven

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I guess if I have to pick my absolute number 1 favorite book this year, I’d pick this one. Station Eleven was a gorgeous and emotional surprise, and I’m so glad to have read it. I’m dying to see what Emily St. John Mandel writes next, because she is on my auto-buy list for sure. Read my review here.

best storytelling

Broken Monsters

2. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. I’m thrilled to have a new favorite author! I can’t wait to catch up on Beukes’ backlist, because she is so good. This thriller kept me on the edge of my seat, but better yet, the author delved deep into the lives of her characters. Highly recommended! Read my review here.

best new series

Red Rising

3. Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown. I read this nearly a year ago, but it still lingers in my memory. Brown’s kick-off to his series was kick-ass, full of bloody action, sex and bold world-building. The second in the series, Golden Son, comes out next month, and I can’t wait to read it. Read my review here.

scariest future 2014 copy

Annihilation

4. Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer. Here’s another great start to a series. I loved the eeriness of VanderMeer’s futuristic world, told through the clinical eyes of a biologist. I have the next two books close at hand, ready to read when I get the chance! Read my review here.

best characters 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts

5. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. This was a big surprise, since I tried not to pay attention to other reviews before I read it. If you think you’ve read all the zombie stories out there, you haven’t until you’ve read this one. Read my review here.

creative magic

California Bones

6. California Bones (Daniel Blackland #1) by Greg Van Eekhout. This was an unsolicited surprise from Tor Books, and boy am I glad I picked it up! I love urban fantasy anyway, but this book did new things with the genre and blew me away. Read my review here.

Best world building 2014

City of Stairs

7. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. Bloggers raved about this book, and with good reason. Bennett gives us a unique world, an exciting plot, and well-developed characters, all of which are ingredients for a truly successful story! Read my review here.

most entertaining

The Martian

8. The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s hard to find a story with only one main character that can keep you riveted for nearly 400 pages, but Weir manages to do just that. The Martian proves that science can be fun, in the form of a character who laughs in the face of danger. Read my review here.

best series ending 2014

Endsinger9. Endsinger (Lotus War #3) by Jay Kristoff. Jay’s Lotus War series was a bleak, dangerous, wonderful, joyous, and heartbreaking opus, and I was sad to see it end. But it went out with a bang. This is one series where each book is just as good as the next. (And yes, I consider these books adult, simply because of the way they are priced.) Read my review here.

best female characters

Full Fathom Five

10. Full Fathom Five (Craft Sequence #3) by Max Gladstone. Max’s books keep getting better and better, and this time he goes all out with the grrrl power! Unique worlds, intricately drawn characters, and plenty of action, if you haven’t started this series, what are you waiting for? Read my review here.

best historical

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

11. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. Hoffman sets her story in New York in the early twentieth century, uses actual historical events to frame it, and adds her characteristic magic realism and wonderfully unique characters to make it come to life. Read my review here.

And because it’s hard to stop at ten (or eleven), here are my honorable mentions, all books I adored as well: The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue; The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini; The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan; The Ophelia Prophecy by Sharon Lynn Fisher; Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix; Through the Woods by Emily Carroll; The Line by J.D. Horn; and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen.

So there they are… Let me know if you’ve read any of these, and link me up to your top ten post! I’ve linked up with The Broke and the Bookishso don’t forget to check out other bloggers’ top ten faves of the year:-)

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Book Review Giveaway! It’s the Last One of 2014

book review giveaway dec 14

It’s the last of my Book Review Giveaways this year, and I’m celebrating by selecting TWO WINNERS this time! Below are the books I read and reviewed in October and November, and two randomly selected winners will get to choose one! The giveaway is international, provided The Book Depository ships to your country.

Congratulations to September’s winner…
Freda Mans,
who selected Station Eleven (awesome choice!)

I read some great books in the past two months, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. I guess Endsinger would be my favorite, with Annihilation, Into Darkness, and The Boy Who Drew Monsters following closely behind. Click on the titles to read my reviews:

five stars

Endsinger by Jay Kristoff

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Into Darkness by J.T. Geissinger

four and a half

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini

The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher

Premonitions by Jamie Schultz

three and a half

The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley

three stars

Sublime by Christina Lauren

Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne

Bloggers can grab the Giveaway button and put it on your sidebar for extra points:

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Ready to enter? Simply fill out the form below. Winner will be selected on January 1st! Good luck:-)

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It’s All About the Characters: BROKEN MONSTERS by Lauren Beukes – Review

Broken Monsters 3D

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Genre: Adult Thriller/Crime
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Release date: September 2014
Source: ARC from Comic Con
Pages: 435

five stars

The nitty-gritty: Top-notch writing and storytelling, a gripping and disturbing thriller, with finely nuanced characters that surprised me in the best possible way.

In the end, forgiveness is like letting go of a rabid cougar you had by the tail.

“This is America. Sex is worse than violence.” – Detective Gabi Versado

After reading so many great reviews of Broken Monsters, I finally pushed aside a toppling pile of review books and settled down to read it. And I’m so glad I did. This book surprised me, and then kept surprising the further I read. The deeper I got into the story, and the more layers I peeled back, the better it was. I am in love with Lauren Beukes, and I’m making it my mission to catch up on her backlist as soon as I can. This story is so much more than a police procedural/murder mystery. Yes, there is a seriously fucked up man who is killing people in bizarre and disturbing ways. And there is a tenacious detective who won’t give up until he’s caught.

But there is also an ensemble cast of characters, each with intricately detailed back-stories. Beukes could have chosen any of these characters to write a story about, so carefully and lovingly does she bring them to life. You may not like them all, but each one is a necessary piece of the puzzle. I turned the pages quickly when the action heated up, but I savored the passages where Beukes develops her characters. By the end of the story I seriously wanted to hang out with Gabi, sit down and have coffee with TK, and take Layla under my wing. (I have a fifteen-year-old myself, and boy did Layla’s story scare me to death!)

You won’t have to wonder for very long who the killer is in Broken Monsters. You’ll figure it out within a few chapters, as you are meant to do. Set in the gritty city of Detroit, the story is told through multiple points of view: Gabi, single mom to Layla and a dedicated detective who never gives up; fifteen-year-old Layla, who gets into some serious trouble along with her best friend Cas; TK, a reformed criminal who’s homeless but tries to help others like himself; Jonno, a middle-aged journalist looking for his big break; and Clayton Broom, a disturbed artist who is slowly unraveling.

When a grisly body is discovered—the top of a young boy fused to the legs of a deer—Gabi and her team go into high gear to solve the murder. Another body is discovered soon after, and Gabi begins to suspect a serial killer is at work. In the midst of trying to uncover clues, Gabi’s daughter Layla is starting to spin out of control. Layla and her friend Cas start chatting online with a pedophile, which leads them to make some very poor choices. Jonno and his new girlfriend Jen begin working on a video about Detroit’s underground art scene, but unintentionally end up in the thick of the murder investigation.

Beukes builds tension slowly, and it takes a while before all the puzzle pieces start to fit together. Eventually the characters’ lives begin to intersect in unexpected ways, but honestly, the journey was just as good as getting to the end. Each character has his own mini-story that runs parallel to the murder investigation, and Beukes weaves all these elements together seamlessly. I’ve heard other readers talk about what a skillful writer she is, and now I can see why. Not only is she juggling multiple storylines, but she’s done a bang-up job of it!

I’ve never been to Detroit myself, but in Broken Monsters, the city is just as much a character as Gabi or Layla. Beukes (who lives in South Africa) has obviously spent some time there, since the descriptions are so vivid and practically jump off the page. I loved some of the local slang, like the description of “Detroit diamonds”—the locals’ term for the broken car window glass that litters the city. Beukes doesn’t shy away from the less savory parts of the city—which is to say most of them—like poverty, the prevalence of crime and drugs, and my favorite, the sad and eerie abandoned factories that seem to be everywhere. But there is beauty in the city as well, an unexpected art scene that thrives among the destruction in back alleys.

The story is also about our obsession with social media and how damaging it can be. Jonno is a journalist who wants his fifteen minutes of fame, and he eventually gets it, but maybe not in quite the way he expected to. Beukes shows how internet news stories spread and change and grow into entities that cannot be contained. She cautions us about the potential dangers of social media sites, especially for children, but she doesn’t preach.

Throughout the story, chalk doorways begin to pop up near the murder scenes, and we’re given hints that something supernatural may be going on. Honestly, as much as I love supernatural in my novels, I would have been fine without it. But I did love the way you couldn’t really tell if those elements were real, or if they were all in the mind of our unreliable narrator.

This book is a stand-alone, but I dearly hope that the author decides to write more about these characters, so much did I come to love them. In any case, I guarantee that I’ll be reading another Lauren Beukes story very soon.

Big thanks to Mulholland Books for supplying a review copy.

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Tough Traveling – Drugs

tough-traveling

Tough Traveling is a weekly feature, created and hosted by Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn, in which participants come up with a list of books that follow the fantasy tropes that can be found in Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to FantasylandEach week, Nathan picks a new subject. This week, I was pleased that Nathan selected a topic that I suggested, drugs:

DRUGS- Driver of all the underground economies. At times glorified, at times responsible for all the world’s evil, but just as common in Fantasyland as our own.

I don’t know why drugs are one of my favorite tropes in books (really, any genre will do), because I’m all about “Don’t do drugs!” I have kids, so my husband and I are always lecturing them about the dangers of doing drugs. But drugs can be used in fiction to great effect, and some of my favorite books use drugs prominently, and dare I say, would not be nearly as good without them. I know I’ve left off lots of great examples, but here are six books that come to mind when I think of using drugs in stories:

The Blue Blazes“Blue” from The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig. Still one of my favorite books from last year, Wendig’s drug-fueled story about a hidden underground world in New York City features a powder that is mined from a mineral called Cerulean. When someone takes Blue, the veil is pulled back from their eyes, and they can see the underground “monsters” who are not visible to the human eye unless you take the drug. And yes, there are Blue addicts in the story.

Three“Quint” from Three by Jay Posey. One of the main characters, Cas, is a “chemic,” someone who is addicted to quint. Cas started using the drug when she worked for a group called RushRuin, but now she’s addicted and in a world of hurt, because she’s on the run, and her supply of quint is gone. I loved the idea that Cas is a victim of the drug, and she only started taking it to perform her job for RushRuin. Her traveling companion Three knows the withdrawal effects of quint aren’t fun, so he goes out of his way to find some for her.

Stormdancer“Chi” from Stormdancer (and Kinslayer & Endsinger) by Jay Kristoff. Chi is derived from a flower called the blood lotus. It is used primarily as a fuel to run the complex steam engines of Kristoff’s world, but it can also be smoked. People addicted to chi live aimless lives, as chi seems to have the same effects as marijuana. Unfortunately for the citizens of Kigen City, you’re going to be breathing in chi whether you like it or not, as the air is forever ruined by the smoke from the chi factories.

Premonitions“Blind” from Premonitions by Jamie Schultz. Here’s another story where a character takes drugs in order to avoid physical suffering. Without a constant supply of blind, Karyn can see slices of the future by hallucinating, and blind helps keep the hallucinations at bay. Unfortunately (isn’t there always an “unfortunately” when we’re talking about drugs?), blind is extremely rare (we’re talking black market, folks) and expensive, and she’s forced into heist jobs in order to pay for it.

Three Parts DeadVampire bites from Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. One of my favorite characters in one of my favorite books is Cat, a woman who has become addicted to the bite of a vampire, which gives her a high that she can’t find anywhere else. Ok, so technically vampire bites aren’t a drug, but in this case the bite releases a chemical that acts as a drug. This idea isn’t new, since many vampire stories use the vampire’s bite as a pleasure device, but Gladstone takes the idea further when Cat starts to fall in love with one of the vamps who is biting her.

Vurt4“Curious Yellow” from Vurt by Jeff Noon. This is the first book that comes to mind when I think about drugs in books. Noon’s writing feels as if he were on LSD while he was writing it (and who knows, maybe he was!). In any case, it worked, and this story still lingers with me, even though I read it nearly twenty years ago. In Vurt, the drugs are vurt feathers, which the user places on his tongue for a highly potent narcotic effect. Curious Yellow is rumored to be the most potent form of the drug, but it might not even exist.

Let me know if you have any good examples!

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Waiting on Wednesday [129] – THE MARVELS by Brian Selznick

WOW 2014 copy

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a fun way to share upcoming books that you’re excited about with other bloggers and readers. I absolutely loved Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, and his next book looks just as awesome:

The Marvels

The Marvels by Brian Selznick. Releases in September 2015 from Scholastic. This cover alone was enough to get my attention, but knowing this is going to be another of Selznick’s “half prose, half story-in-pictures” really makes me excited! Here’s what Goodreads says:

Ellie Berger and Tracy Mack at Scholastic have acquired a new book by Caldecott Medalist Brian Selznick, which Mack will edit for Scholastic Press. The Marvels, a “multi-layered reading experience in words and pictures” according to the publisher, weaves together two seemingly unrelated stories — one in words, the other in pictures. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.

It will be published on September 15, 2015 simultaneously in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Noel Silverman, Esq. brokered the deal for world rights.

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What do you think? Have you read The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Wonderstruck? Let me know what you’re waiting on:-)

 

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Giveaway Winners – November!

Since I had so many giveaways last month, I thought I’d post a list of the winners! Thank you to everyone who entered. All entries were randomly selected, by either Rafflecopter or Random.org.

Winner of an ARC of Endsinger by Jay Kristoff:  Wayne C.

Winner of a hardcover copy of The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue – Laura T.

Winner of a copy of City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett: Kyla F.

Congratulations all, your books will arrive soon! My next giveaway starts a week from tomorrow, on December 15th. I’ll be giving away a copy of a book I reviewed in October and November, and there will be TWO winners selected! Hope to see you then!

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Over-Booked [14] – A Book Haul Post

Over booked banner

Welcome to Over-Booked, where I share my recent book acquisitions, including review books from publishers, purchases and more! I’m linking up with Stacking the Shelves at Tynga’s Reviews and The Sunday Post at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Check out their links to see other book haul posts!

I’ve been keeping a tight rein on review book requests, but I couldn’t resist requesting one new NetGalley title after reading a glowing review (just so you know, I read and pay attention to other bloggers’ book reviews, and if I love the sound of a book based on a review, I go out and buy or request that book. So book reviews, matter!) And I bought a few things because, resistance is futile! Here is my (blessedly) small haul this week:

overbooked 12-6

For review from publisher:

Golden Son by Pierce Brown. OMG!!! I was so excited to get this in the mail unexpectedly, after requesting it. I had never sent a request to this publisher before, and I was like, “What the hell? Why not?” BIG thanks to the kind publicist at Del Rey who read my (rather gushing and unprofessional) email and decided to have pity on me. This one is near the top of the pile!

Purchased:

The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters. OK, so I requested this from NetGalley, but it turned out to be one of those books where the publisher decided not to make the Kindle version available to reviewers. And I can’t tell you how much I HATE working with Adobe Reader (anyone??). Needless to say, by the time I realized I hadn’t downloaded it (and I do have a Nook as a back-up reader for just this reason), it was too late, and NetGalley had already archived it. So I bought a copy, and I hope to squeeze it in. I’ve heard SO many great things about it!

Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier. I have so many bloggy friends who loved this (Tabitha at Not Yet Read, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn, Mogsy at Bibliosanctum, and Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings, to name a few), how could I NOT buy a copy? Yes people, it’s peer pressure or the power of the written word, or something. You all are making me buy stuff!

Authority and Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer. I recently read and reviewed (and loved!) Annihilation, and for obvious reasons I knew I couldn’t stop there, so I now have the complete series, ready to binge-read soon, I hope.

For review from NetGalley:

Owl and the Japanese Circus

Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish. Big thanks to Pocket Star for approving my request! This is another book where a blogger’s review made me scramble to request it on NetGalley. Thanks to Bob at Beauty in Ruins, who convinced me that this book has my name written all over it:-)

That’s my book haul, what’s yours?

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DEAD FUNNY: HORROR STORIES BY COMEDIANS Edited by Robin Ince & Johnny Mains – Review

Dead Funny 3D

Dead Funny: Horror Stories by Comedians edited by Robin Ince & Johnny Mains
Genre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Release date: October 2014
Source: Finished copy from publisher
Pages: 199

three stars

The nitty-gritty:  A healthy dose of horror from famous British comedians, and a unique collection, but only moderately successful, in this reader’s opinion.

So, under normal circumstances, stand-up comedy and I don’t get along very well. It’s too bad, because I have some genuine comedians in my family (and by genuine, I mean they get paid to stand up and say funny things!) My sense of humor often clashes with those around me. My husband, for example, tends to enjoy telling me jokes, most of them pretty terrible. Hence my disdain of canned humor. So why am I telling you all this? I guess to explain my reaction to Dead Funny, a new short story collection from the respectable and always interesting UK publisher, Salt Publishing, whose books I’ve enjoyed immensely.

Co-editor Robin Ince says in his Introduction, “… remember that the goriest deaths will have been created while the writer was imagining their worst heckler. Interrupt at a comedy club at your peril, now you know you what goes on in the minds of the stand-up.”  I was very curious to read a collection of fiction written by comedians, because while I may not always enjoy stand-up comedy, I do love humor in my fiction. Glancing through the list of contributors, it didn’t surprise me that I only recognized one name, Charlie Higson. After all, I’m an American who doesn’t really follow comedy in the first place.

This collection is quite varied, both in subject matter and skill level, and I was surprised to discover that when comedians sit down to pen horror stories, the results aren’t necessarily funny. Some of them are very well written, but others read like comedy routines instead of short stories. Out of the sixteen stories in this collection, I really enjoyed five of them, I liked six others, I was frankly baffled by or did not like the writing of four of them, and downright HATED one story. (And I don’t think I’ve ever said I’ve hated something on this blog before!) So quite the mixed bag.

Here are the five stories that I thought were well-crafted and creepy and yes, had some black humor as well:

The Patient by Mitch Benn

A man whose wife and daughter were killed in a car accident abducts the man responsible and tortures him in his basement. A twist near the end was a nice surprise and made this one of my favorites.

Possum by Matthew Holness

This story was crazy and sick, but I thought it was really well done. A disturbed man who makes puppets tries to destroy one of them, but the puppet doesn’t go down quietly. I’m not sure I completely understood this story. The man goes back to his childhood home and tries to get his father (?) to help him destroy the puppet. It was just weird. But in a good way!

For Roger by Katy Brand

This was my favorite of the bunch. It had a fantastic Twilight Zone vibe to it. A man discovers a hidden diary in his attic, but strangely, the diary appears to predict the future. This story shows us that knowing what will happen in the future is not necessarily a good thing.

Anthemoessa by Phill Jupitus

In some versions of mythology, Anthemoessa was the island home of the Sirens. In this story, a  man (again with all the male characters!) who is trying to climb the corporate ladder, gets caught up in the siren song of two mysterious women, and unfortunately for him, follows them. This story was very well written and also very funny. This was the vibe I was expecting from all the stories in this collection.

Filthy Night by Charlie Higson

Another funny story that I really enjoyed! An aging horror actor visits the home of one of his fans, to see his movie memorabilia collection. I loved the surprise twist at the end (although I didn’t care for the punchy comedy “last line”). More humor than horror, but still very good.

I have to mention the story that set my teeth on edge, the one I didn’t like at all. It was called Dog by Reece Shearsmith. The writing was pretty good, and Shearsmith certainly has the talent to give us a gut-wrenching story. But unfortunately, it was about a psychopath who kills dogs, and since I’m a dog person, I just couldn’t stomach it. Perhaps the author meant to elicit such a response, and if that was his intention, then bravo!

So while the concept of having comedians write short horror stories was certainly a good idea, this collection only manages to sort of pull it off. But as Johnny Mains says in his Foreword, “It’s an experiment in terror. Not all of the stories will make you laugh. Some of them might make you vomit or be scared to go outdoors after 6 p.m.” Johnny, I believe you hit the nail on the head.

Big thanks to Salt Publishing for supplying a review copy.

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