readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Pretty Monsters – Kelly Link *****

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I’d come across a few stories by Link in anthologies, and that was enough to make me excited to pick up this book at the store.
Unfortunately, I think every story I’d already read by Link was in this book. That’s OK, though, because these stories are all good enough to read at least twice.

The Wrong Grave
A very Neil-Gaiman-ish feel to this one. Some time after his high school girlfriend is killed in a car accident, a guy decides to dig up her grave to retrieve the undoubtedly-brilliant poetry he buried with her. In doing so, he released an undead girl, who doesn’t seem at all like his girlfriend…

The Wizards of Perfil
It is probably impossible to convey, over the internet, how much I love this story. I’ve read it twice now, and I cried both times. It is beautiful, tragic, but above all, hopeful.
The servants of the mysterious Wizards buy children, and take them off to Perfil, for who knows what purpose. When the children in the story get there, the purpose is not revealed. All they seem to do is menial tasks, and the Wizards are nowhere to be seen…

Magic for Beginners
Jeremy and his friends are obsessed with a pirate TV show called ‘The Library,’ an ongoing drama where actors and characters are oddly interchangeable. Meanwhile, Jeremy’s mom, and his very peculiar dad, who reupholsters sofas and has written a novel in which he kills Jeremy, are having marital problems. Jeremy’s mom packs him off with her for a cross-country road trip, and fiction and reality intersect in indefinite ways.

The Faery Handbag
She’s grown up with the stories: open the handbag one way, and it’s an entrance to another world; full of all the refugees from her grandmother’s village, long ago. Open it the other way, and beware, because the sinister guardians will be released. She’s never believed the stories. But bad things have happened, and boy has she messed up.

The Specialist’s Hat
Creepy! Creepy, creepy, creeeeeepy! If you buy, and move into a haunted house, you PROBABLY should check the babysitter’s references, and maybe her ID, too, before you leave your young children with her. Better yet, just get the hell out of that house before it’s too late.

Monster
Kids at summer camp, forced to go on a remarkably unpleasant camping trip in the rain. There’s petty bullying, and a lot of mud. And then it gets significantly more unpleasant.
The Surfer
A kid is drugged by his dad and kidnapped. He wakes up enroute to Costa Rica. All he can think about is how upset he is to be missing his big soccer game, back home. But maybe his dad did know something – he’s a doctor, and in Costa Rica they find themselves imprisoned in a quarantine camp – back home, a plague has broken out. In Costa Rica, half the people there are hoping to join a surfer guru who preaches the imminent return of benevolent aliens who may save humanity from themselves…

The Constable of Abal
Ozma (no, not the princess of Baum’s Oz) tags along after her mother, a woman who has mysterious powers over ghosts. Ozma does too. She puts them on leashes like pets. She particularly likes the ghost of a constable that her mother killed on the road, and hangs on to it secretly even when her(?) – things get a bit indefinite – mother tells her to let it go. Her mother says they’re going ‘home,’ but that goal isn’t in sight. Instead, she goes into service at the home of a strange woman whose house is full of ghosts…

Pretty Monsters
Teenage girls. A hopeless schoolgirl crush. Hazing. Werewolves. Two stories twine and interact, incorporating these things. What will happen at the end? We’re not sure, but we can guess.
As I said earlier, I really like Link’s writing. I do, however, have ambiguous feelings about her love of ambiguity. She really likes indefinite endings and unanswered questions. Sometimes it works really well (The Specialist’s Hat), at other times (Magic For Beginners) I really felt as if the end of the story was missing – and I really wanted to read it. Still, a remarkably excellent book.

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