Review – Clockwork Phoenix 4

Clockwork Phoenix 4Clockwork Phoenix 4 is a collection of 18 stories edited by Mike Allen. Who, I will tell you now, is a master editor. And the authors, all masters as well. This collection is really fantastic. I took my time reading it and was rewarded each time a new story began. You can call it speculative, fantasy, science fiction, but what it is, is good reading. After each story, I was left thinking of the characters and settings which were believable and yet unbelievable at the same time. I’m not always a fan of short stories, and soon after the book arrived, I become a little apprehensive and worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I shouldn’t have worried. There are stories in this collection that I’ll go back to again and again. They are so rich and detailed I know I’ll find something new each time I pick up a story.

Not to give away anything, I’ll do a short sentence or so about each because I feel each story deserves a mention. You’ll note I have many favorites.

Our Lady of the Thylacines by Yves Meynard – A Girl learning the value of life from the Lady. A slightly dark tale containing that all important lesson of the value we place on life. This is a great story to start the collection.

The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter by Ian McHugh – Behra is the ninth daughter of the Canal Barge Magician and she is full of the magic her father harnesses for his use. When she finds her magic and learns to use it, all bets are off and she wants out. Fantastic piece — I love stories like this. Blood magic is used in cruel and vicious ways in this story and the world building is amazing. A favorite of mine.

On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse by Nicole Kornher-Stace – A post-apocalyptic world full of ghosts and the person who collects and catalogues them. I had a bit of trouble following this one but it’s such an interesting concept that I think I will go back and re-read it. A world ravaged yet full of ghosts is appealing.

Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – Do the dead get lonely? A drowned girl floating away her days wonders much about the world after meeting the beach bum. There’s a creepiness to this story but not the creepy you think of when you think of ghosts. I think it’s the idea of floating around, never knowing where you’ll land or what will happen that’s creepy. Maybe it’s just the great unknown and how scary it can be or maybe it’s just me. It’s a wonderful story though.

Trap-Weed by Gemma Files – A heart-broken selkie running from loneliness is captured by a collector. I love tales of sea creatures and the magic infused in this story is perfect. It rocks you slowly along bringing you to a bittersweet end that’s a strange metaphor for life and where we should place our trust. A favorite.

Icicle by Yukimi Ogawa – A half human, half snow-woman leaves the only home she’s ever known to look for her father and finds a love she can’t have. Oh, is this one a hard lesson of family life. Heartbreaking and yet wonderful. A favorite.

Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story by A.C. Wise – Two hungry ghosts haunting the world in the only way they know how. This is such a sad story but instead of disliking the ghosts, I just pitied them. When you open yourself to love, you open yourself to heartbreak. So good.

What Still Abides by Marie Brennan – Throw some Norse gods and the undead together and what do you get? This story. It’s told using Germanic derived words, according to the author’s website. Yes, I looked that up. I needed to know. In fact, the language makes this one. It brings it to a whole other level. Reading this one is an experience.

The Wanderer King by Alisa Alering – A post-apocalyptic world of the dead and dying and two women looking for a way out and the king that can get them to a new world. Oh, what a wonderfully sad, terrifying world. It’s brutal and full of menace. A favorite.

A Little of the Night by Tanith Lee – Fleeing from a murder, a man comes upon an evil place, and instead of continuing to run, he feels compelled to search for the source of that evil. He becomes drawn to it. A great, great story. A favorite.

I Come From the Dark Universe by Cat Rambo – Sex in a far off place. A brothel manager takes in a woman who says she came from the dark universe but offers no more. She’s quiet, mysterious, and maybe just the right bit of love needed for another lonely soul. Love in a whore house is so complicated. Eventually, what we come to learn is that there’s a love for all of us, if we’re willing to be patient. It’s hard to describe this as romantic (brothel and all) but it’s the best way to describe this so I’m going with it. It’s my absolute favorite in this collection. It’s one I will read again and again.

Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw by Shira Lipkin – A witch who can switch between realities and is happy to play around with the boundaries of love but shies away from her own heart. Zee, the witch, is such an intriguing character and I love how she plays around with everyone else’s heart and ignores her own. It’s a keeper and by that I mean it’s another favorite.

Lilo Is by Corinne Duyvis – Being a single mother of a spider-girl can be interesting, to say the least. Oh, my god. So wonderful. I laughed my way through this one thankful I didn’t need to deal with a spider-girl. Mostly I laughed nervously because spiders completely freak me out. I went back and re-read parts too. Love it. You’re tired of reading this, I know, but, a favorite.

Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer by Kenneth Schneyer – A critic takes us on review of an artist’s work. It’s such a strange story but very interesting. The descriptions make you see not just the artwork but the artist. A good read.

Three Times by Camille Alexa – Do you know what it means to be alive? An entity takes human form to learn what it feels like. Sweet, sad, than utterly heartbreaking. A lovely little gem of a story.

The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – A universe of replicated humanoids each with a role. When one being begins to die, she undergoes surgery only to wake with a chest full of bees where a heart should be. This reminded me of The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. A strange world that not only confuses but fascinates. A great story.

The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – A scribe attempts to note the life of the Old Woman, who constantly interrupts and berates him. It’s amusing, warmhearted, and slightly sad. A good story.

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff – An extended family gathers for a Seder, and in doing so bring together the universal soul. The history of soul 2065 evolves, and in turn, becomes a most wonderful story. Spanning 70 years, the soul changes but never forgets. An amazing way to end the collection. A favorite.
Ask me what this collection is about and I’ll tell you it’s about life, it’s about love, it’s about tragedy, it’s about the alluring nature of sex, it’s about the feeling of belonging. There’s so much more to these stories than you think there will be. Go and read them. That’s all I have left to say.

Mike Allen shared a copy of Clockwork Phoenix 4 with me for review.

Clockwork Phoenix 4

Edited by Mike Allen

Mythic Delirium

ISBN: 9780988912403

 

Review – Fiction Noir: Thirteen Stories, An Anthology

Fiction Noir: Thirteen Stories, An Anthology

Edited by Rick Tannenbaum

Hen House Press

ISBN: 9780983460466

4 stars

This year I’ve been making an effort to read more short stories. When I was contacted by Hen House Press to review the Fiction Noir anthology I said yes. It was short stories but fiction noir which I enjoy —- dark stories always capture my attention. And this collection was really good.

I don’t want to give too much away so I thought a short sentence (question to entice?) about each would suffice.

Loser’s Ledge by Eve Gael — When you lose everything you thought important, what’s left?

Hey, Girlie by Joanne Dobson — A young girl is spooked by a neighbor but is there a reason to be scared?

Everyone’s a Critic by A.R. Philips — As a movie director, what lengths would you go to to ensure your movie gets the best reviews?

Dangerous Appetites by Amy Beth Arkawy — After marrying for money, a former caterer begins to see her life from a whole new perspective.

Johnny Passe by Scott Fivelson and Tim Cleavenger — An old fashioned private eye gets caught in a trap while looking for some Sinatra records.

Anvil by Steven Fried — A meditation, if you will, on the life and death process.

The Vinegar of the Seven Thieves by Dennis Brock — In wartime, a former soldier running from the law finds himself in a bad place while trying to survive.

Wrongful Death by Isaac Grimm — A lawyer with a needy wife comes across the perfect solution when a client visits.

Murder Brokers by Jennifer Leeper — A small town reporter’s curiosity gets the better of her, or does it?

The Village Idiot by Roberto Gottardello and Rivka Tadjer — A washed up FBI agent’s past comes back to haunt her.

When the Man Comes Around by Bernard Schaffer — How far would you go to protect a child?

High Stakes Graf by Semyon White — Vegas calls but the lure is sometimes more dangerous than one might know.

Love Noir by Ivan Jensen — A short poem, quite unique.

There are several gems here among them: Hey, Girlie, Everyone’s a Critic, Dangerous Appetites, Johnny Passe, The Vinegar of the Seven Thieves, Wrongful Death, Murder Brokers, and Love Noir. I have to say though, I really enjoyed them all. Usually when I’m reading short stories, especially a collection of several different authors, I take a break between stories. I didn’t do that with these stories. I jumped into the next story without a break eager to see what would be next. This might actually be the first time that’s ever happened to me. If you’re looking for some short stories, take a look, this collection is worth your time.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book for review.

Review – Tales of Terror and Mystery

Tales of Terror and Mystery

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Penguin Books

ISBN: 0-14-004878-2

3.75 stars

I’ve been reading more short stories this year and have come to one conclusion — I prefer one author over several.  I enjoy the stories more if I become familiar with the author’s voice and I can then move along without feeling the need to stop and regain my footing at the end of each story.  In Tales of Terror and Mystery, this is exactly what happened.

There were 13 stories here; six tales of terror and seven tales of mystery.

Tales of Terror:

The Horror of the Heights follows a pilot who encounters giant jellyfish like aliens.  The Leather Funnel reminds us what a true nightmare can be.  The New Catacomb is a take on the value of friendship when a woman’s love is involved.  The Case of Lady Sannox is an affair gone wrong.  The Terror of Blue John Gap involves an imaginary monster made real.  The Brazilian Cat is a tale of family woe and backstabbing relatives.

Tales of Mystery:

The Lost Special is a recounting of a train kidnapping.  The Beetle-Hunter follows a young doctor and the horror he finds in answering an advertisement.  The Man with the Watches is about a train with missing persons.  The Japanned Box makes us wonder what a widower is doing alone in a room late at night.  The Black Doctor involves the disappearance and supposed murder of a well-liked town doctor.  The Jew’s Breastplate is a museum caper complete with a mummy.  The Nightmare Room is an odd scene with a séance to boot.

If you know anything about Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, these stories reflect many of his interests including his love of new technologies and preoccupation in the afterlife.  It’s endearing and somewhat uncomfortable at the same time as his prejudices also come through.  I’m not going into that here though.

I enjoyed the tales of terror more and there are a few gems among the mysteries as well but I did see a few endings coming which didn’t cause any disappointment.  With a short story, in some cases only pages, it’s going to happen.

If you’re a fan of Doyle, this one is worth a look.  It’s fast and the stories are entertaining.

 

Short Story Quick Reviews – The Gauntlet and The Queen’s Witch

The Gauntlet: A Kit Marlowe Short

By Karen Chance

Smashwords Edition – Free Nook download from Barnes & Noble

3.75 stars

Kit Marlowe is a vampire working for Queen Elizabeth I.  He’s sent to the Queen’s prison in search of a witch to help with his work.  He finds the woman he needs at the prison, a powerful witch named Gillian, and decides she’s fit for what the Queen wants but before he can get out with her, a magical battle takes place between coven witches and mages, and Kit is forced to fight alongside Gillian to get out alive.

Witches, mages, and covens battling it out for the right of survival and throw in a vampire for fun and well, just call it fun.  Why not?  When I read this book I was on a fantasy bender and also a short story run which is not my usual preference but something was really appealing about this.  An hour’s worth of reading for a magical battle was just what I needed.  Chance didn’t skimp on the magic and while it would have been great to have more information on how the magical system worked, there wasn’t much time for that but I was OK with it.  Kit and Gillian carry it off and though much is left unexplained, it was still entertaining.

 

The Queen’s Witch: A Kit Marlowe Short

Karen Chance

Smashwords Edition – Free Nook Download from Barnes & Noble

3.75 stars

The Gauntlet’s follow-up.  Having recently escaped from a prison stronghold with a vampire named Kit, Gillian is now a witch with a price on her head.  Kit, however, needs her once more promising to take Gillian and her daughter to safety after she helps him procure a jewel meant to poison the Queen.

I have a Nook and while browsing the Barnes & Noble online store one day I found these free downloads.  Both looked interesting enough so I took advantage.  Really, free books, how could one not.  🙂  This one is short, only 37 pages, but it was fun.  Gillian and Kit have an entertaining relationship and it being so short there isn’t much background here — more is in The Gauntlet which preceded this one — but I found myself liking the two characters more and more and wondering if I could find more shorts.  And then I thought I would even be willing to pay.  Gillian and Kit feel like fully developed characters and while the story does feel as if there should be more, it was a good few page for me.

My Favorite Reads – The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

Description: The leather bound version that is my book does not have a description on the back or inside cover.  It’s a collection of short stories by the author, 61 stories in fact, and includes a number of his well-known pieces that many are probably familiar with such as: Ligeia, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy, The Pit and the Pendulum, Tell-Tale Heart, and The Cask of Amontillado among many others.

If you would like more information on Edgar Allan Poe, the Wikipedia page has a lot of information about his life and work, the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore allows one to read his stories, and Poestrories.com lists several as well.

My thoughts: Being that it is the month of October, I thought this book of short stories would be an interesting one to highlight.  At some point, we’ve all probably read a Poe tale or two, most likely in high school/college English classes.   When I’m craving a good, creepy story and one that will leave me wondering hours later, I pick this one off the shelf.  Earlier this year I re-read Ligeia and The Fall of the House of Usher both of which were originally read in high school.  I believe I also wrote a paper on Ligeia in college for an English class.

Each time I re-read these stories I find something new to appreciate — the use of language, the stillness of the stories, and the gothic nature.  I don’t think these stories are for everyone but for me they scream Halloween (yes, pun intended).

There is a Poe House and Museum in Baltimore that I have yet to get to but someday I plan to make the short drive up and visit.  He’s a writer that always seems to fascinate and give me the creeps.