Book Review: Down These Strange Streets edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois

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Down These Strange StreetsDown These Strange Streets by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthology gathers stories from authors who normally write in various genres. The commonality is that each story is a mystery, and there’s a fantastic twist to each. Martin’s introduction calls such stories the “bastard stepchild” of mystery and horror.

Charlaine Harris‘ “Death by Dahlia,” set in the Sookie Stackhouse universe, is one of a series of stories about the vampire Dahlia Lynley-Chivers. Each story stands alone, but my enjoyment grows greater with each addition to her tales. I’d much rather see Dahlia as the main character of a novel than Sookie, to be honest. This story, set at the party for the ascension of a new vampire sherrif, was a little gem, and a nice start to the collection.

“The Bleeding Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale is grittier from start to finish, set in the south of black folks in the 1950s. A beautiful woman sends her sometime-suitor to find her brother, a blues musician who has gotten into music that isn’t of this world. I couldn’t be done with this one soon enough, as it gave me the willies. I have a feeling Lansdale would be happy that it stuck with me for a while.

Simon R. Green‘s “Hungry Heart” takes us to the Nightside, where John Taylor is hired by a young witch to retrieve her stolen heart. I haven’t read any of the Nightside novels, but this is probably the third or fourth short story I’ve read, and for some reason they never leave me wanting more. I don’t hunger for the darkness, I guess. I will give Green points for creativity in evil henchmen, though.

“Styx and Stones” by Steven Saylor takes a teenage version of his novel hero Gordianus on a world tour to see the Seven Wonders of the World, and this stop is Babylon. Gordianus and his companion, Antipater, find a murderous ghost in residence near their inn in addition to seeing the Ziggurat, the Gate of Ishtar, and what’s left of the Hanging Gardens.

S. M. Stirling‘s “Pain and Suffering” was unsatisfying to me. It opened with an ex-soldier’s combat flashback twisted into something Other, then we learn that the ex-soldier is a cop. He and his partner spend a lot of time investigating an apparent arson and possibly-connected kidnapping. The flashbacks repeat. There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil the story. I just felt that there was a lot of build-up for very little payoff, and that perhaps this story was meant as a teaser for a novel in which context it would all make far more sense.

“It’s Still the Same Old Story’ by Carrie Vaughn features vampire Rick, from the Kitty Norville books. An old friend calls him needing his help, but by the time he gets to her, she’s dead. Most of the story is told in flashback, with him remembering when he originally met the now-old-woman, when they were lovers for a time. The murder is no great mystery for very long. The story felt more rote than anything else, as if perhaps Vaughn wanted to humanize Rick a bit by showing that he had cared for this woman at one time. I didn’t feel much of anything from it.

One of the more creative pieces, “The Lady is a Screamer” by Conn Iggulden, is told in first person by a con man turned ghostbuster. I didn’t like it, precisely, and i certainly didn’t like the narrator. It stands alone, though, and doesn’t feel derivative at all, so that says something all by itself.

“Hellbender” by Laurie R. King is probably the only story that left me determined to hunt down more of the author’s work. I would classify it as near-future science fiction, but it certainly fits in the noir detective genre as well. I have no hesitation giving this one story five out of five stars.

“Shadow Thieves” is a Garrett, P.I. story by Glen Cook. That’s another series I haven’t read, but I believe this is the first time I’ve read a short story set in that world. I wouldn’t mind reading the series if the novels are all light-hearted like this story. There was some darkness, obviously, or the piece wouldn’t be in this anthology – but overall, there was humor.

Melinda M. Snodgrass‘ “No Mystery, No Miracle” is probably the most controversial story in the book if anybody is really paying attention. I found it intriguing and well-written.

“The Difference Between a Puzzle and a Mystery” by M.L.N. Hanover takes us a big city, where an overworked cop is trying to get a confession out of a supposedly demon-possessed killer. He gets help from an unusual minister (Unitarian, we’re told – not something that will thrill any UUs out there). I found this one of the most chilling stories in the book. Telling you why, however, would be a spoiler.

I would love to see a novel featuring the main characters of Lisa Tuttle‘s “The Curious Affair of the Deodand” – a young woman in the Watson role and a young man as a Sherlock Holmes-type consulting detective. The young lady is every bit as vital to resolving the case as the man is, which is one of the things I enjoyed about the story. The resolution isn’t as satisfying as it could be, though, which is one of the reasons I’d like to see the same characters in other circumstances.

“Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” by Diana Gabaldon is a Lord John Grey story. This is, I believe, the first thing I’ve read by Gabaldon. It wasn’t bad and it wasn’t earth-shakingly good. It was decently-plotted with predictable characters and a nice little twist at the end, so enjoyable to read. I won’t avoid her work but I’m not burning to read more, either.

“Beware the Snake” is an SPQR story by John Maddox Roberts. Once again, I’m unfamiliar with the author and the series, but the story gave enough context for me to understand the setting and the characters, so that was all right. It was enjoyable, although I probably would have twigged to a couple of things more quickly were I more familiar with Roman naming customs.

Patricia Briggs‘ “In Red, With Pearls” is set in Mercedes Thompson’s world but featuring werewolf Warren Smith and his lover Kyle. Kyle is set upon by a zombie assassin who is thwarted by Warren, but of course Warren wants to know who sent the zombie, why, and who made the zombie. It’s a very good story, as I’ve come to expect from Briggs. I had a bit of a hard time keeping up with some of the secondary characters in the story, but then I was distracted at the time.

“The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton is a Dashiell Hammett story – as in, Hammett is a character. That was interesting alone, but the story in general was well-told. Spare and hard, as befits one of the main characters.

All in all this is a collection that I can definitely recommend. There are very few clunkers are several excellent stories. George R.R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois did their jobs very well.

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Woot! We won!

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It looks like the T-SPLOST bill was defeated by a landslide. I’m so glad! That thing was a total boondoggle. My baby girl and I spent the day together and one of the very first things we did was go vote against it!

We had a good lunch together and a frozen yogurt treat. She indulged me, so I finally got to go to In Stitches, too. They have the most incredible selection of fibers! I picked up my first Gloriana silks for a charity stitching project.

Now I’m exhausted, but happy. It was a good day!

Book Review: Entangled edited by Edie Ramer

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EntangledEntangled by Edie Ramer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this anthology up because all proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is a wonderful cause. Many of the authors’ lives have been touched by cancer in one way or another, some first-hand. The volume is Halloween-themed, as well.

I don’t believe I’ve read anything but short stories by any of these authors in the past except for Jennifer Estep, and I haven’t read the Mythos Academy series in which her story is set. I’m more likely to read it now than I was before.

“Halloween Frost” by Estep and “Ghostly Justice” by Allison Brennan (set in her Seven Deadly Sins series) were the most polished stories in the anthology. Too many of the others had plot holes, or felt like teasers to get a reader to pursue more of the author’s work. A short story should be self-contained.

Some of the authors let the “romance” get in the way of the plotting. If the main character acts like an idiot because she’s distracted by the bulge in a man’s pants, why make her the main character of a story? Especially if, as in “Sinfully Sweet” by Michelle Miles, you fail to resolve the major plot issue you raise?

While I admire the cause for which these ladies are writing, I can’t help but think a shorter, higher-quality anthology might have been a better bet.

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Happy News

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You are reading the blog of the newest board member of Grants to You, a wonderful non-profit organization based in Prescott, Arizona. I’m going to be doing a lot of work involving the web site and serving on a new committee. I’m tickled pink!

In other news, I got to introduce someone to the Dresden Files today! I thought everybody had heard of Butcher’s books, but in case there’s another fantasy fan out there who has been deprived: you want to read these, I promise. They’re about Chicago’s only professional wizard, Harry Dresden. He routinely deals with vampires, demons, werewolves—you name it. There was a short-lived television show that should have been longer, but it died the death of so many great shows (like Firefly).

Start with Storm Front, but know that you’ll want to have Fool Moon and Grave Peril handy.

I love them so much that I keep all fourteen volumes (thirteen novels and a collection of short stories) on my Nook as comfort reading. I’m eager to read number fourteen, and I can’t think of many other authors who can keep the excitement going that long. I’ve never encountered one person who doesn’t like these books if they’ve read them, so give them a try!

Book Review: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

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Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse, #11)Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For fluff, it’s got some really dark scenes. It doesn’t have enough of a plot to be anything more than fluff, though. It absolutely does NOT stand alone, so don’t consider reading this book unless you’ve read all that went before it – you’ll be hopelessly lost.

Sookie has changed so much over the course of this series that she is having trouble recognizing herself, and is troubled over it, with good reason. Having a main character change is good, and I’ll say that some of that change is growth, but I can’t say it’s all growth, or all to the good. (Can any of us say that, though, about the changes we go through in our lives?)

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Book Review: Tricked by Kevin Hearne

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Tricked (Iron Druid Chronicles, #4)Tricked by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

That was so good. Just so very good. Like the last three – well plotted, with good character development from a fascinating cast of characters. This time most of the mythology is Native American (specifically Navajo) instead of Norse or Celtic, but there’s a little spice from other traditions thrown in as well. And as before, there are always consequences getting involved, even in good causes. I think that’s one of the biggest ways this series reminds me of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

I am absolutely going to be on tenterhooks until Trapped is released!

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Morning Pages Tool

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I’ve recently gotten back into the discipline of doing morning pages, something that’s a vital part of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a great way to clear your mental caches each morning and prepare to write something more meaningful. Traditionally, one writes three pages longhand.

Unfortunately, I have trouble with that. The arthritis in my hands causes terrible cramping, and I can’t read what I’ve written by the time I’m a sentence or two on. I get preoccupied by how terrible my handwriting is and so distracted that the whole point of the exercise is lost.

If I try to use a word processor, I end up writing too much. Blogging is no good, because I write too much and I worry about forgetting to mark the entries private.

750 Words is a wonderful alternative. It provides nothing but a blank screen and a notice when you hit 750 words (three pages at 250 words each equals 750 words). It’s a free service! And it will send you reminder messages.

I’m tickled pink!

Book Review: Hammered by Kevin Hearne

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Hammered (Iron Druid Chronicles, #3)Hammered by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This book has a non-stop pace, for reasons that will be obvious to the reader but cannot be explained to others without spoilers. I’ll just say “clear your calendar” because you’ll not find ANY good stopping places.

One of the things that truly impresses me is that Kevin Hearne doesn’t just show his characters doing amazing things, but shows them experiencing the consequences of their actions—some expected, some totally unexpected. I truly enjoy his views of archetypes and myth, especially coming from a character who walks around speaking to gods, having a beer with Jesus and throwing down with Thor.

I’m so glad that I have Tricked on hand, but I wish Trapped were out already! At least I have the extra A Test of Mettle to read, too. I just can’t get enough of Atticus.

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