“I’m tired of you being so dark while I’m so impish and whimsical.”

53. Get In Trouble – Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s brand of magical realism is always something I look forward to reading. I bought her Get In Trouble short story collection as soon as it came out and read the eight stories I hadn’t read before quite quickly. It’s been interesting to read the evolution of how Link deals with forming her characters. They seem to be much more realized in this collection than they were in her earlier work and usually a non-character character bugs me, but it never did in her writing.

I don’t like the cover of this collection as much as the past three of hers, it’s too not-whimsical, too graphic designy for me. The feeling I get from Kelly Link stories is like entering a long-abandoned and overgrown mini-golf course with a fairytale theme at dusk and red, cream, and brushy lettering is not quite right.

Pammy would’ve made a good cover model, especially on her shiny 1950s chair. She’s darling and cautious and those sweet eyes hint at an abandoned mini-golf course within.

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Elephant and Castle

57. Looking for Jake – China Mieville

The first Mieville I ever read was for an epics and fairytales sort of class in college and it always surprises me that the book of his that was chosen (and it was in the early 2000s, so it’s not like there were a ton out to choose from) was the most concise and straightforward book of his I’d read until this short story collection. That book was King Rat, the drum and bass/jungle/house/grime version of the Pied Piper, in a way…and now you know the rest of the story.

Mieville tends to get a bit sprawling, to shove in a lot of ideas about London all at once and it can get overwhelming trying to parse out how every random character is contributing to the story. That tendency gets curbed by the lack of space in a short story. There’s no room for fifty versions of old-timey supernatural gangsters, which was comforting. I’m always intrigued by the Mieville novels I’ve read, then I get lost, then I wonder if it’s just because I’m not UKish that I’m lost, then I try to just go along for the ride because London really is my favorite city on earth and I still know bits of it by heart (but why…WHY…did the Piccadilly Circus HMV have to close? That’s where I got the first Grinderman LP – it’s special. Sister Ray’s better never close, I’ll have to cut someone.), then I regret not really reading that much Lovecraft before I started the book, and then I finish it and wonder what just happened. Thankfully, each story in Looking for Jake cannot cause that kind of journey. Not enough room.

Danger Crumples, getting sleepy from the mental taxation of sitting with me while I read Kraken.

We start in, well, what a shock, bizarro-London with “Looking for Jake,” and a breakdown in reality that involves nasty creatures. It’s what I expect from Mieville, but way reigned in and the situation is never really addressed. It seems to me the reigning is what causes the lack of explaining.

“Foundation” was really horrifying and quite sad; the images that it evokes are not ones I want to revisit.

This image of Danger Crumples, however, I will revisit as long as I have eyes.

“The Ball Room” – This is absolutely my favorite story in the whole collection and frankly, it might have inspired Horrorstor. It’s a bit gleeful in its exploration of the evil children’s ball pit in an Ikea-like store. This is the first time this story appeared in print and I would totally buy it just to have this story (I haven’t yet, as usual, I stumbled upon the existence of this collection while hunting for misshelved books.).

“Familiar” – Another tale I enjoyed quite a bit about what happens after a witch ditches his unliked familiar. It’s like Milo and Otis, without one of them, in London, and if one of them was growing in power and evil plotting abilities the whole time they were gone. So, more like Benji.

Okay, okay, don’t turn on the quizzical glare so hard, Dangey, I will admit I have not seen Benji. But I did run into the cover of Benji many times during the period of my youth when I was scared of dogs, okay? Benji scared me. At the video store.

“Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopaedia” – Words are powerful. Infectious, even.

“Tis the Season” – Privatizing holidays…it reminded me of this pamphlet I found about the war on Christmas being orchestrated by the Bolsheviks way back in the day up until the current dickcheese took charge of the U.S. Now I think it’s not just dystopian London headed for a stupid situation where only rich people can celebrate Christmas.

“The Tain” – This was at one point published separately, but I always think it’s nice to know that there’s more than one way to get a particular short piece. Especially when it’s about mirror fauna escaping.

Danger Crumples was a master escape artist. Once, I got out of the shower to find him standing in the doorway of the guinea pigs’ room. And, when I moved into my current apartment he stayed one night away from me at the home of another and managed to chew himself out of his temporary laundry basket cage…but didn’t get out of the room. It was a solid attempt to Homeward Bound for a guinea pig.

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Cold sliced meat mentions: 0 (Stupid post-apocalyptic country)

27. Chimera – Mira Grant

It’s the end of the trilogy and Sal has finally realized that being afraid of cars is a learned behavior she shouldn’t have had. Finally. Geez. It took enough pages. I don’t recall anyone gaslighting her about cars in the first one, just her reacting to them- so, not signposted and I feel right for being annoyed the whole time. Also noticed by me – she lost her concern for her collection of carnivorous plants at some point. And I thought she and her boyfriend were compassionate.

Anyway, she has turned that lost compassion for plants into compassion for a zombie-child that read to me like a distraction for the sciencey parts and brought another confusing character relationship to the forefront. Sherman? When did Sherman not just seem like surface-level manipulative about “loving” Sal? Why does he love Sal? Why is anyone even interested in Sal beyond her tapeworm being skilled, again?

So, Sal finds a kid and goes on a post-apocalypse road trip and makes bad friends and bits of her have been put into the water supply by Sherman while he giggles like a maniac but also tries to present himself as a viable love interest. Yep, that’s a run-on, but, so’s the plot.

Thankfully, Tansy aka Foxy from Newsflesh part deux, doesn’t say anything in the entire book. Instead, the role of warped person who makes functional suggestions and does the heavy work is taken by Fishy, a guy who pretends to be in a video game. Actually, Fishy reminds me a lot of Shawn from Newsflesh. I feel like everyone in these two series is basically recycled somehow. But Georgia wasn’t as boring a narrator as Sal. Yeesh. Both, however, are diseased, broken, apparently good looking women. Okay then. I’m sure all the characters in both series would have a hell of a brunch together, although it might devolve into carnage if the cold cuts tray wasn’t re-stocked a few times.

“Seriously? No luncheon meats? None?” Thaddeus is shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

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It’s dark in here.

75. One Kick – Chelsea Cain

I learned a lot of uncomfortable information about child sex trafficking from this book and although it’s fiction, I do not wish to fact check anything. I have to say, I am not surprised that Chelsea Cain and Chuck Palahniuk were ever in the same writing group. Tidbits about uncomfortable things that validate the circumstances and actions of the story are a foundation for both writers. Chelsea Cain’s heroine Kick Lannigan is closed off but compassionate, she has a complicated and unpleasant past, and she makes for an intriguing guide through the world of One Kick. It’s very tense.

Also, there’s some level of weirdness with the follow-up. It was supposed to come out a long time ago and I had it on my Amazon Wish List and then it went wonky. I tried to look into it a couple of times and for now I’m going to have to go with “the book got kidnapped and trafficked,” which is really unfortunate on a couple of levels.

Belvedere tensely searches for new smells and a better napping spot. Guinea pig thrills.

 

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“Hey, it’s Randy. We’ve got until tomorrow morning to sacrifice Stephen to the devil.”

71. Living with the Dead – Kelley Armstrong

You know, I’m not sure that Hope and Karl can really carry a story. Hope’s a demon who has a hard time controlling her massive powers and Karl is a werewolf slash jewel thief (sometimes) that loves that demon. Karl didn’t really pop out much to me in the other werewolf stories, so his whole near-redemption situation wasn’t all that intriguing. I think maybe Armstrong knows that not all the characters really deserve their own book length work, but still wanted to use these two, and so she stuck them in with some other narrators in Living with the Dead. The result is a bit of a mess. The plot’s fine, a little involved considering that this is book nine in the Otherworld series and the reader is only familiar with a couple of the characters already – and vaguely familiar at that. Robyn, Hope’s friend that doesn’t know she’s a demon, who also has a dead husband who was – surprise! – a necromancer, starts finding lots of dead people around her. And not in a Sixth Sense way, in a “you must be the killer, you’re around” way. Oh, those supernatural crimes inspire the best police work. Well, this one kind of does once Robyn’s dead husband starts helping Finn, another new narrator.

Sometimes you read books in a series to have read the whole series…and if Armstrong’s writing wasn’t so easy to glide through, I might’ve skipped this one.

Ozma looks for a story with more dynamic narrators on the other side of the couch. The cooler werewolves are not back there, little Oz, I’m sorry.

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“In the back shakes a tambourine/Nicotine from a silver screen”

38. Silver Scream – David J. Schow, ed.

In 1988, Dark Harvest published Silver Scream, a collection of movie-centric horror stories edited by Splatterpunk dude David J. Schow. It’s awesome…except for the note at the end. Too much, man, too much. Don’t splatter me with such random tidbits. I prefer to be splattered in a much more specific way. That sounds horrible, not unlike many of the events in the stories of Silver Scream.

Ozymandias is ready to walk the path of cinematic terror. Are you?

“Cuts” by F. Paul Wilson – This reminded me of this movie that keeps randomly playing on Flix Retro called Mark of the Devil. It turns out it was part of a Hammer television series in the 1980s called Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense and involves this dude (Dirk Benedict) who murders a voodoo dude-slash-tattoo artist and grows a tattoo of the murder on his chest that he must – MUST – keep from his new bride Jenny Seagrove. In “Cuts,” things get a little bloodier than murder. Yep. It just proves that you should never mess with anyone who writes about voodoo. Also, do not fuck with books when you make them into movies. Most of the time it goes badly and in this case, you’ll suffer extensively.

“The Movie People” – Robert Bloch – I haven’t read Psycho as of yet, so I believe this is one of my first exposures to Robert Bloch’s writing (I can’t recall if he’s been in any of the other short story collections I’ve read, I’ve read a lot of them over the years). It’s a wistful story of loneliness and reaching out across time and really, really taking one’s craft as an extra seriously.

“Sinema” – Ray Garton – Holy shit this story was great. A basically abandoned kid and a serial killer in the midst of a strictly religious town watch movies together and make friends…until there are reasons for them to be not friends. A little more sadistic at the end than I would’ve liked, but I am glad the basically abandoned kid got the upper hand at some point.

Ozymandias will control what we watch from now on. He has taken control of the remote for all time.

“More Sinned Against” – Karl Edward Wagner – 100% my favorite story in the collection. I know the sacrifices women are expected and conditioned to make so that they can support someone else’s dream. It doesn’t always turn out quite like this, but the excuses were so familiar. “If I just had this, we could do this,” and they never, ever mean it. They were always planning to get ahead of you and expected you to just stay where you were. They were special, you were not. Well, getting your own action figure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. Everyone is special.

“Bargain Cinema” – Jay Scheckley – A ballad of co-dependency. Don’t be Chuck and Patty.

“Lifecast” – Craig Spector – Sounds like Troma maybe screwed someone over at some point. Hmmm. This tale of make-up work and, yes, more voodoo, ends in a way that I was not expecting. Yikes.

Ozymandias was always very independent, and very special. He would never have made any mistakes while practicing voodoo.

“The Show Goes On” – Ramsey Campbell – Abandoned theaters are super creepy. I have been in exactly one abandoned theater myself, I was not alone – there was a print of Coach Carter there in addition to other people I came with, and thankfully it wasn’t as far gone as the theater in this story. Parts of this story made my breathing wonky because it was so easy to picture all the dust and mold and musty smells. It was also very tense, as a lot of urban exploration can be, even without the hauntings.

“The Cutter” – Edward Bryant – Delusions of romance and grandeur drive a movie theater owner who used to edit in Hollywood. He re-cuts the movies he shows and he creepily pursues and finally “edits” a young woman with a bad attitude who lets him do things for her. Eek.

There are two other things I took issue with about this collection besides the overly wordy and inside jokey essay at the end. One, the last story was Way. Too. Long. I lost interest nearly a quarter in and never regained it. I’m surprised I made it through the whole thing. And- there are no stories by women in here. There are several stories about women and featuring their perspectives, but I bet there were some stories about movies by women that really could’ve been worth including. It would’ve been nice to see more equal representation.

Ozy and Pammy, equals and Teddy Bear pigs.

 

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“Let’s play a game, it’s called scary noises.”

20. Torments – Lisa W. Cantrell

The sequel to the paperback with one of my all time favorite covers featuring an angry jack o’lantern munching on a bannister – The Manse, Torments really feels like a major re-tread. I haven’t even read The Manse, but there was so much summary information about what happened in it, that I almost feel like I don’t need to. I will eventually, of course, and maybe I’ll get déjà vu.

Anyway, this manse is haunted. So haunted that the land around it is super haunted and the town and the people and the construction site and the new apartment buildings and it’s just got super penetrating haunting powers. I think we all know how this turns out on Halloween and that it requires an elderly black woman to save whatever and whomever can be saved.

Finny’s idea of torment is sitting still for pictures. He never does. He never will. He might end up running a very specifically themed haunted house attraction someday.

 

Happy Halloween! Here are my little trick-or-treaters in Danger Things II, such a sweet little group.

 

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There are an awful lot of stakes raised here for a book that didn’t involve many vampires.

65. Wolfman Confidential – Justin Robinson

Things are getting a lot darker in the City of Devils. It would stand to reason that any story involving more of the mobster and cop elements of the adventures of Nick Moss would be on the more serious side – even if those mobsters are a sidhe, the girl version of Krang from Ninja Turtles, and a germaphobe.

At first I was a little nervous about the amount of new characters that continued to pop up and have things resolved throughout the novel. That nerviness turned out to be unfounded by the end, thankfully, as the characters circled back around or their involvement in the main plot became clear. It’s so important in a series with a world as unusual and detailed as this one to not just mention some new person or location or thing solely for its own sake and Robinson manages to keep the newness and revealed relevance fun throughout. There are a lot of weird and wonderful set pieces with a ghost gang’s lair, goblins, a phantom and his young protégé, and – unexpectedly – people.

I have to say, though, my favorite scene involved the familiar monsters who hang out at Nick’s house every night trying to get him to let them turn him. Nick basically giving story-time to Sam, Mira, and Lurkimer made for a good moment of grounding in a very action packed story.

Ozma is waiting for Pere to tell her stories about her own version of the Night War.

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“Don’t stay up thinking of ways to get rid of me, it makes wrinkles. “

17. Usher’s Passing – Robert McCammon

Well, well, well. I was really pleased with the depths that McCammon was able to get to in this one. It was swampy with dread and covered with dust and blood. Sticky. Dusty. Crumbling. It falls into the Southern Gothic pantheon for me but it moved way faster than molasses and both was and wasn’t entirely taken up with the main family, which was quite nice.

I’ve read some McCammon where it felt like the ensemble was getting away from him and a little too much stayed in and that was definitely not the case here. That said, electric blue still made quite the appearance. But of course it did.

A McCammon book without electric blue is like a day without me seeing a picture of Danger Crumples. Not going to happen

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It’s a Daddy’s Dyin’…Who’s Got the Will? for the 1970s jet set.

39. The Legacy – John Coyne

It’s the old “invite a bunch of people to a house under the guise of giving them an inheritance” story. House on Haunted Hill, House on Skull Mountain, there are more, it’s a thing. But this one has the weirdest cover ever – a white Persian cat’s head on top of a zombie hand with red nails, the cat’s head is stuck on the wrist, so it’s like Thing in costume for Halloween. The box for the movie haunted me back in the days of video stores. I am ridiculously allergic to cats but I like them (and after ten plus years of immunity treatment, I can actually hang out in the homes of persons with cats for a while) and so that cover was unnerving on a couple of levels. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I love Katharine Ross, so maybe someday I actually will watch it. Reading it didn’t really help me understand why that exact thing is on the cover. I mean, I know what it is, but, on the cover? Really?

This book is super 1970s. There’s a fashion designer, a music executive, misogyny, and not everyone who shows up to inherit knows why they’re there. The pacing was pretty slow and it didn’t really ratchet up the tension when the guests started dying. I think on the whole I could use this review some random person on a message board left for my book Dawn of the Interns to sum things up: “It is worth to read.” It IS worth to read if you want a dose of the 1970s and like those stories about people grouped together in rich people houses to “last through the night.”

looks exactly like Katharine Ross, doesn’t she? Maybe I’ll submit her to those magazine “Separated at Birth” things… Maybe not.

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