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Friday, July 18, 2014

Games Creatures Play Anthology

by Terrance Mc Arthur

I like short-story anthologies. They’re like the all-you-can-eat buffet of the publishing world. You get to sample all sorts of things. Authors you know bring out dishes that may be familiar, but with different ingredients. Unfamiliar writers are like foods you’ve never tried before, but you can scoop up a small serving of short stories without having to commit to the whole meal of a novel.

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Charlaine Harris (the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire mysteries that inspired the True Blood TV series) and Toni L. P. Kelner have made a cottage industry of themed horror anthologies, featuring some popular writers and some wanna-become-popular writers. They have tackled everything from education to home improvement, birthdays to vacations, coming up with some fascinating collections of short stories. What have they come up with next? Sports and games.

Games Creatures Play brings together fifteen authors and their stories, taking a swing at recreational activities from graceful ice skating to brutal lacrosse, traditional baseball to unconventional versions of hide-and-seek, sophisticated fencing to down-and-dirty roller derby.

Image source: Ace

Some are funny, some are scary. Some are gruesome, and some are fairly tame. Each story has its own charms and will attract its own set of fans, but this umpire found a few that hit home runs:

• Scott Sigler’s “The Case of the Haunted Safeway” mixes Ghostbusters with Field of Dreams on the site of a former ballpark in San Francisco, where an eighty-year-old tragedy is re-enacted in ways that the frozen food section was never built to accommodate. It includes pleas for tolerance and how families must learn to accept and nurture the capabilities of their children.
• “Hide and Shriek,” by Adam-Troy Castro, comes off as H. P. Lovecraft horror as it might be told by Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) Adams, where all=powerful creatures compete childishly to destroy worlds and are embarrassed by the results. It is raucous and silly—I liked it.
• “Dead on the Bones” is a no-rules, river-bottom fight that starts out as a community entertainment with a bit of voodoo, until it turns into revenge. Written by horror master Joe Lonsdale, it’s big on atmosphere and strong medicine.
• Caitlin Kittredge’s “The Devil Went Down to Boston” combines traditional Celtic lore with typical bar games and a deal with a demon into a winning deal.
• “On the Fields of Blood” offers time travel and lacrosse, and delivers a frightening, violent tale by Brendan DuBois.
• Mercedes Lackey penned “False Knight on the Road,” which pits moonshine runners against something else, a vehicle that might have origins beyond their understanding.

The editors have their stories, too. Harris returns to Sookie Stackhouse to introduce Manfred Bernardo, a character from her next series of books, in “In the Blue Hereafter.”

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public's information needs.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The White Magic Five & Dime By Steven Hockensmith and Lisa Falco

by Cynthia Chow

When loan modifications officer Alanis MacLachlan receives a call concerning her mother, the only question is does she need money or has she died? After not having communicated with her mother for the past twenty years, Alanis is relieved to know that it is the latter. Apparently, Athena Passalis, aka Barbra Harper, interrupted a burglary in her tarot shop and Alanis is now the sole heir of the White Magic Five and Dime New Age store in Berdache, Arizona.

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Alanis, as Sophie Harper, was raised in casinos and trained by her con artist mother to view everyone as either a con or as a mark whose emotions were a weakness to be exploited. As a result, the news that Alanis has also inherited Clarice Stewart, a seventeen year-old tenant and store clerk, is neither welcome nor a sentimental souvenir of her mother’s life. Further bad news arrives in the form of Josh Logan, a Berdache detective who has his suspicions about Alanis's legal intentions as well as her possible involvement in the murder. While she doesn't have any fuzzy memories or good feelings towards her mother, Alanis does feel that she owes her mother justice.

Studying the hilarious and rather informative how-to tarot book, Infinite Roads to Knowing by Miss Chance, Alanis takes over her mother's clients in the hopes of determining who may have been unhappy enough with her predictions to want her dead. As she investigates, Alanis discovers while Athena always had her eyes on the prize, she also brought a surprising amount of peace to her clients.

Image source: Midnight Ink

The author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the Holmes on the Range series places his trademark of twisted humor, wordplay banter, and acerbic wit on this absolutely delightful mystery. Alanis protects herself with a shield of whip-smart sarcastic wit and a brash, jaded attitude. The narrative reveals the true tragedy of Alanis's past, from her lonely early training in the art of the con to the fate of her surrogate father. The authors seamlessly blend this with humor, very human characters, and an intricate plot to ensure readers will be thoroughly entertained. This is a mystery like no other, an ending no one can predict, and a heroine who is as savvy, funny, and strong as she is vulnerable.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).