Recently I talked about a bad experience with an anthology of short stories. If you didn’t read that post you can read it here or just read this tl;dr – it sucked. Moving on.
To make up for that, I’m going to leave reviews for the three most recent short story anthologies/collections I’ve read. Not because I want to make myself feel better for not finishing the other book, but because these were all incredibly awesome and worthy of a bit of praise. Without further ado, and in the order I finished them, on to the reviews!
Madhouse is a shared-world anthology from Dark Regions Press. It includes stories from Jeff Strand, John Skipp, and Mercedes Yardley among others. The basic premise is this: a bunch of people (inmates and non-inmates) get trapped in an asylum because of a crazy-ass sandstorm. Along with them is a super creepy (and also crazy-ass) inmate who everyone thinks is magical. Either that or he is magical. Or both…you never can tell with these things. Anyway, there is a wraparound story that follows a doctor and a security guard interspersed with individual stories about various inmates and how they fit into the larger wraparound story. Make sense? Good.
I’ve read more than a few shared-world anthologies and I’m generally a fan. The downside is there’s always (yes always) at least a story or two that either doesn’t fit in with the wraparound story or the writing style is so vastly different that it feels out of place. That’s the case in Madhouse, but even with that being stated, for me this is easily the best one I’ve read. The stories are all well written and engaging, they all move the story along toward conclusion, and none of them felt like a throwaway tale. Plus, as with most Dark Regions titles, the artwork is excellent.
It was difficult for me to pick favorites because all the stories (more or less) feed into the larger narrative of the shared world. Some could survive as stand-alone tales, I’m sure, but I feel the book is better treated as a whole. All in all this is a fantastic book well worth the read, especially if you like your horror a bit on the crazy side. You know, because it’s an asylum? With crazy people? Ahem, moving on….
Stacey Longo’s Secret Things is a short story collection published through Books and Boos Press. It’s big on character and even bigger on tone. It’s not often that I read an entire collection that maintains such a dark, almost uncomfortable feel without being outright graphic horror. The stories in Secret Things exude a sense of loss, pain, even sadness. Many deal with interpersonal relationships that have gone bad…or worse. It’s a sobering reminder that relationships can bring out the crazy in all of us.
Highlights for me include the zombie love story Love Stinks and the snowpocalypse tale Trapped, with the creepy-ass cemetery visit of Mother’s Day being my favorite. Secret Things is one of the most consistent collections I’ve read in a long time, if not ever. I have nothing bad to say about any of the stories, as they all deserve their place in this fantastic collection. Plus, many are set in her (and my) home state of Connecticut, which is pretty damn cool.
I had high expectations for Taylor Grant’s The Dark At The End Of The Tunnel. The collection was published by Cemetery Dance (ebook) and Crystal Lake Publishing (print) and it was recently nominated for a Bram Stoker Award (as was the included short story The Infected). Based on overwhelmingly positive feedback, I picked up a copy. It’s an understatement to say I was not disappointed, as reading this book is an impressive experience. It doesn’t read like an author’s debut collection, rather it feels like a master who has honed his craft through years of experience. It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s been writing in various other forms of entertainment for years, and yes, he’s had short stories published before, but this is his first book (first of many, I truly hope).
Highlights for me include…hell, all of them, with Show And Tell being not only my favorite story in the collection, but quite possibly my favorite short story of all time. That’s saying a lot considering how long I’ve been reading horror fiction. I’m glad I got a paper copy of the book, because I found myself actually gripping the pages on more than one occasion. I don’t think my Kindle would have appreciated that. The book is that good. No shit.
This is how it’s done, folks. These three collections are all fantastic in their own right, yet different enough to take you on completely different journeys that will entertain, frighten, amuse, and just plain creep you out. Links are embedded in the text above, but here they are once again because they all deserve a read.