***** Up in Old Vermont by Scott Smith
A very strong opener to the anthology. At an aimless point in her life, a waitress takes up her regular customer’s repeated offer to work for him as caretaker to his Alzheimers’-afflicted wife. Soon, she finds herself ensconced in a remote house, in a small town, and of course she’s neglected to inform anyone of her whereabouts. How could anything go wrong?
The story has a bit of a slow buildup – but I thought it was worth it.
**** Something Lost, Something Gained by Seanan McGuire
Who knew that collecting fireflies could be so dangerous? I have to admit that I’m a bit tired of the ‘abusive family situation’ trope in fiction, and the short format of this story doesn’t lend itself to allowing the characters to rise above the boilerplate. However, the writing and the satisfying ending still bring the story up to 4 stars.
*** On the Dark Side of Sunlight Basin by Michael Koryta
A well-written, entertaining and scary diptych. I loved the setting: the wilderness of Wyoming’s national forests.
In the first half, we meet an obnoxious, incompetent hunter and his Native American guide.
Thirty years later, what happened to that hunter affects a young couple in search of spooky photography opportunities.
Almost 4 stars, I just wished there’d been a deeper connection made between the two sections, rather than just “this happened – and then this happened.”
*** The Neighbors by Sherrilyn Kenyon
A young boy suspects that something about the new neighbors is suspicious – but his mother pooh-poohs his fears.
I have to admit, I saw the ‘twist’ coming, in this one.
*** Paper Cuts by Gary A. Braunbeck
The eternal saga of a persecuted race of immortals is intercut with the story of a clumsy young woman who decides to shop at a quaint secondhand bookstore one evening. Not bad, but I feel that a necessary opportunity is missed in this story: (view spoiler)
***** Miss Fondevant by Charlaine Harris
Everyone always behaves in Miss Fondevant’s sixth grade classroom. Everyone. Always. And when a classmate dies, Susan is convinced that the medical explanation that’s given at assembly is not the truth.
I loved this one. The two possible explanations for the events portrayed are weighted equally, and the psychology is perfect. It’s also darker than I expected, from Harris.
*** In a Cavern, In a Canyon by Laird Barron
While out searching for an errant dog, a family pet, with her father and uncle, a teenage girl has a weird encounter. Also, her father disappears. The one event overshadows the other – but both of them affect her entire rest of her life.
A classic “monsters are gonna get you” story.
***** Whiskey and Light by Dana Cameron
In a backwards, cursed town, the villagers live in fear of the demon that is believed to live beneath an ancient mound. They depend on a regular ritual, performed by a visiting priest, to keep their homes – and their lives – safe. When one year, the priest does not arrive, to everyone’s consternation, one young woman decides to take this chance to finally get herself and her little sister out of Dodge. However… not all goes according to plan.
Shades of ‘the Wicker Man’ here, but it’s an original, strong, satisfying tale.
**** We Are All Monsters Here by Kelley Armstrong
I thought this story was quite a lot better than the several other things I’ve read by Armstrong (no romantic werewolves here, yay!)
Instead, this is an ‘outbreak’ tale. A new plague has emerged. Those stricken arise at night and attack and drink the blood of those around them. In the morning, they remember nothing of what they’ve done. The story follows one college student from a rough background, as her classmates are quarantined, and then as society collapses around her. Fans of ‘The Walking Dead’ will approve.
**** May the End Be Good by Tim Lebbon
Wandering through a war-ravaged medieval landscape, a priest must deal with encountering not only the horrors of the mutilated bodies of battle’s casualties – but with evidence that the survivors have been reduced to cannibalism. He himself is struggling and near desperation. And in this bleak and wintry wasteland, there may be worse things even than humans.
**** Mrs. Popkin by Dan Chaon and Lynda Barry
Well, now that was all kinds of messed up, wrapped in some nice, normal wrapping paper. Todd is a nerdy boy who lives with his eccentric single mother. When the Popkin family moves into the empty house next door, it looks like Todd might, albeit hesitantly, make some new friends. However, the authors are going to take us somewhere different…
*** Direct Report by Leigh Perry (Toni L.P. Kelner)
Quite unexpected: a story that starts out with a woman kidnapped and imprisoned in a room, drugged and repeatedly raped… and ends up being rather lighthearted and funny. How does the author pull this off? Well, you’ll have to read it…
*** Shadow and Thirst by John Langan
While a grown son is visiting his father, they notice a strange “tower” (it’s not a tower, it’s a bloody square cube, says nitpicky-me) on the dad’s property. We know something’s wrong when the family dog won’t approach the mysterious structure. But of course, dad pays no attention to his dog’s sensitivities, and the situation is bound to quickly avalanche into bloody disaster.
I liked the setup, but the pacing is derailed by a far-too-long “explanatory monologue” at a very unlikely juncture.
*** Mother by Joe McKinney
Two cryptozoologists with a long-standing professional rivalry are both ‘on the trail’ of rumors surrounding a supposed chupacabra who’s recently killed a string of children. Soon, old resentments will come to a head, as what is uncovered turns out to be more dangerous than either man expects.
*** Blood by Robert Shearman
‘Lolita’ is given a new twist. A teacher is on an ill-advised and very illicit trip to Paris with a young student. But the line between victim and victimizer may not be as clear as it first appears.
*** The Yellow Death by Lucy A. Snyder
Why is it that there are always bikers, after the apocalypse? One woman has found what the thought was a relative measure of safety amongst a biker gang, after the vampire plague. But when her beautiful sister turns up looking for her, a balance will be upset.
*** Last Supper by Brian Keene
After an apocalyptic plague which has emptied the Earth of the living, even a vampire has it rough.
*** Separator by Rio Youers
American businessman, employed by an unethical developer in the Philippines, gets what’s coming to him.
***** What Kept You So Long? by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Lindqvist’s name comes with high expectations – and this story lived up to them. The life of a Scandinavian trucker is lonely and sometimes sordid, but it’s brought to vivid, all-too-human life here. After reading, you’ll feel like you really knew someone who had this job. But maybe not the specific man here, whose infection has led him to do things he’d never have imagined just a few years ago – and whose bleak loneliness has only increased, until he seeks understanding from a hitchhiker he picks up one night. At once classic and strikingly original, this is a tour-de-force of the vampire genre.
*** Blue Hell by David Wellington
Long ago, in ancient Mexico, sacrificial victims were flung into sinkholes in order to propitiate the gods. Here we meet a Mayan priestess, a willing sacrifice. But her ritual goes wrong, and she will discover that her people have been sadly misinformed in their belief that the rain god Chaac is the deity appreciating their offerings.
Many thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this quality anthology. As always, my opinions are solely my own.