Friday, January 27, 2012

The Home Renovation Guide for the Supernaturally Inclined

I just finished the short story collection Home Improvement: Undead Edition, which features short stories from current authors in the urban fantasy and supernatural mystery genres.  I was a little unsure about writing a blog post on the book, given it's varied contents, but the collection was so overwhelming awesome that I decided to give it a go.

The Basics
Harris, Charlaine and Toni L.P. Kelner. eds. Home Improvement: Undead Edition. New York: Ace Books, 2011 Print.

Charlaine Harris is the author of several series, including the popular Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire mysteries and has won numerous awards for her skills. Toni L.P. Kelner writes the Where Are They Now? mystery series, lots of short stories, and is apparently a Green Lantern fan (always nice to pinpoint my fellow nerds). Together they have edited three other short story anthologies: Many Bloody Returns, Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, and Death's Excellent Vacation. I've read the first of those, and after this recent release, I'll definitely be picking up the other two some time soon.

Home Improvement: Undead Edition, as you might expect, features stories that relate (in some way) to the theme of home renovation and/or ownership.  Some stories feature characters from a continuing series or world, while others stand alone. The very best feature of these types of collections is that if you read them through you discover so many new authors to delight.  I picked this anthology up because it contained a Sookie Stackhouse short, but I put it down again with 4 or 5 more authors I wanted to read.

The Stories
I suppose I'll go in order and begin with Charlaine Harris's "If I Had a Hammer." Of course, I liked it; it's Sookie Stackhouse, the heroine of one of my favorite series (even if the HBO adaptations sucks. Har har, see what I did there?). It's not the best in the collection, but it stands alone well and offers a refreshing break from Sookie's normal vampire-steeped affairs. The story featured a dark little mystery, uncovered as Sookie helps her friend Tara create a nursery.

Next! In "Wizard Home Security," Victor Gischler offers an amusing tale of a wizard's struggle with/against his newly installed security system.  It was amusing, but didn't really grab me. It was farcical, but lacked the depth I need to want to be involved.

Patricia Brigg's "Gray" was a delightful little stand alone story. Maybe I'm a sucker for vampires (non-Twilight ones anyway), but Elyna was a great character.  She was tough yet emotionally fragile, with a great history behind her.  I liked the process of her revisiting the past through the renovation of her past apartment now turned condo. She's a darker, less happy character than Sookie, but she was super interesting. Briggs has been on my reading list for a while, and I'll definitely be looking into her books soon.

"Squatter's Rights" by Rochelle Krich, on the other hand, was not to my taste. It was written very well but fell squarely in the horror genre.  The details of Jewish orthodoxy were interesting and explained the house's issues. However, the story scared the pants off me, and I really wish I hadn't read it through. But maybe you like that sort of thing.

In "Blood on the Wall," Heather Graham combines a grisly occult murder set in New Orleans with a really cool PI, DeFeo Montville.  Despite his goofy name, I really liked the character and I wish she had more of him to offer right down to his odd obsession with the care of the family crypt.  I had the mystery mostly figured out, but the supernatural twist at the end was not expected and great fun!

Then we have James Grady's "The Mansion of Imperatives." I didn't like his lack of set-up or characters until I realized what he was up to in terms of plot.  In the story, a set of friends decide to flip a house only to discover it has a mind of its own and a keen sense of self preservation. It was a clever story but had too much horror for my liking.

"The Strength Inside" by Melissa Marr was another that I liked. It was different, featuring it's own unique supernatural creature to focus on.  There was also a lot of humor as the main characters, who've recently moved, deal with the local Home Owners' Association. There was a touch of horror, but it was the interesting kind rather than disturbing, especially since it related to the characters being supernatural creatures. Maybe she'll branch out from Young Adult writing to create an adult series centered on these characters.

E.E. Knight's "Woolsley's Kitchen Nightmare" was amusing, featuring a supernatural Gordon Ramsay-esque main character.  I didn't care for the numerous references to cooking and eating humans, but the story was a decent enough read despite the ick factor.

The next story was Seanan McGuire's "Through this House," which I really liked. I was only a page in when I added it to my like list. Needless to say I'll be checking out the October Daye series real soon.  This story follows Toby as she trys to reclaim the faire realm estate she's inherited that has been left to rot both physically and magically for a couple years. Despite the giant spiders, the story was my favorite in the collection and was filled with delightfully sarcastic humor and interesting happenings.

And then we have "The Path" by S.J. Rozan, which was just meh. It was long, boring, and couldn't hold my interest despite my determination.

"Rick the Brave" by Stacia Kane was good, though not the best. It has an interesting and unique premise, revolving around ghosts that haunt and terrorize a dystopian world now run by The Church.  The story was well written and action packed and left me at least a little curious to know more.

In "Full-Scale Demolition," Suzanne McLeod provides a sidhe heroine who works as a sort magical problem solver for the Spellcrackers organization.  It was, again, different from the other offerings and was humorous with just the right amount of action and bite, literally (not the vampiric kind, either). It ties with "Through this House" for favorite. And again, I'll be promptly investigating the series the characters are from.

Simon R. Green's "It's All in the Rendering" was entertaining, but fairly middle-of-the-road compared to the other stories in the collection.  It features a house that acts as gateway and sanctuary between our world and the Nightside. I liked the premise but wanted more meat to the story.

"In Brightest Day" by Toni L.P. Kelner was cute and fun, but made it hard to avoid comparisons to Anita Blake's chosen profession of zombie-raising.  It was different enough, I suppose.  Again, I was left wanting a little more oomph to the story, but I really liked the heroine.

There are too many authors to do an extras section real justice, so I'll skip that this time.  But I highly recommend that you pick this book up and acquaint yourself with a few more top notch supernatural writers.  Or, if that's not your thing, investigate a collection featuring your favorite author.  It's a great way to expand to new authors in genres that you love!


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