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Friday, August 20, 2010

Death's Excellent Themed Anthology

I was pretty excited to recently receive a review copy of Death's Excellent Vacation edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner.  It was also fun to read part of the book while actually on vacation. For a lover of speculative fiction, what better thing to read then a themed anthology of all original tales of paranormal R&R?

On top of that, I'll have to admit that I've never read a Sookie Stackhouse novel nor have I seen the TV show True Blood, so I was pleased to be able to finally read a story from that universe. (The anthology includes a never-before published Sookie Stackhouse story) This taste of the Stackhouse universe makes me even more intrigued to pick up the novels.

This was a fun and mostly refreshing anthology with tales of travel and vacation that kept this reader turning the pages to see what was coming next. While I was initially disappointed that there wasn't an actual story about death taking a vacation, I quickly got over that because the tales included were quite wonderful in keeping with the spirit of the anthology's theme without being repetitive.

Admittedly, though I enjoyed getting to know Sookie through the very interesting Sackhouse story "Two Blondes" by the time I was about 80 pages into the anthology I was getting a little tired of the gorgeous, charming vampire hanging out with either a mortal with supernatural powers, or a recently converted mortal. I've never been a huge fan of vampires and have to admit that the concept of a charming and pleasant vampire has grown old with me. (On the flip side, the terrifying and nasty creatures in Justin Cronin's novel The Passage -- the "virals" who are essentially vampires, were interesting to me, because it seems like a long time since vampires were disturbing and frightening creatures of the night)

There were some great and interesting stories here, and my favourites include Toni L.P. Kelner's "Pirate Dave's Haunted Amusement Park" which is a tale about a werewolf on vacation teaming up with a pirate/vampire to save a long-running theme park. Yes, I was okay with this particular vampire because it worked really well with the way the story was set up. I was also quite fond of the interesting and compelling gargoyle tale by Lilith Saintcrow called "The Heart is Always Right."

"Demon in the Dunes" by Chris Grabenstein might be among the best stories in the collection due to the classic "ghost story" manner in which the story of memories of youthful indiscretions on a beach is unfolded. "Meanwhile, Far Across the Caspian Sea" by Daniel Stashower was another fascinating and unexpected tale (this one about the world of copywrighters and editors) that caught me by surprise and offered an interesting and fresh element to the collection.

I was pleased to read the A. Lee Martinez tale "The Innsmouth Nook" about a couple of newcomers setting up a bed and breakfast on a small coastal town as well as the intriguing look at aggressive journalism in the face of a family's suffering in Jeff Abbott's "Safe and Sound."  And finally, "Thin Walls" by Christopher Golden was a wonderfully disturbing horror tale with a satisfying self-reflective resolution.

It's rare that I enjoy so many of the tales within an anthology, so am quite impressed with both the range and quality of the tales that Harris and Kelner put together.  In all, this is an excellent book to read, whether you're about to embark on a bit of a vacation or if you just want to escape back into the thought of getting away for a little while.

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