Jon Katz is best known for charming readers with autobiographical observations of the assorted animals who live with him at Bedlam Farm, particularly his dogs. In Dancing Dogs, his first collection of short stories, Katz introduces readers to a new canine cast who may not be real but nonetheless capture the multifaceted spirit of dogs and the ease with which we humans come to love them.
In "Away to Me," a dog grows depressed when the farmer gives her herding job to a slick new border collie, only to have her life changed by a surprising revelation. At "The Surrender Bay," an animal control worker comforts surrendered animals and their distraught owners during the first throes of the Great Recession. In "Luther and Minnie in Heaven," a deceased woman is reunited with her beloved dog but finds that dogs inhabit a separate heaven, a place that perfectly fits the nature of dogs but routinely horrifies the more puritanical human sensibility. A woman with an out-of-control border collie wants desperately to train her dog but finds she must first retrain herself in "Instinct Test," while the protagonist of "The Dog Who Kept Men Away" teaches her single-and-looking owner that sometimes "must love dogs" can become "dog must love you." And these are just a few of the treasures in Katz's sometimes imaginative, sometimes true to life inventory of tales.
Although dogs and their owners predominate in this collection, a loyal barn cat with a surprising best friend also makes her way into a starring role, and Katz pulls a fast one more than once on readers who make assumptions about a character's species. Katz's unornamented style makes his short fiction accessible to a younger audience, although parents will want to pick and choose their storytime selections as occasional thematic elements are more appropriate to an adult audience. Fans of Katz, and any other readers looking for a rainbow of moving tales to remind them of the varied and amazing qualities of dogs, will smile, chuckle and occasionally wipe away a stray tear at Dancing Dogs.
***This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness. Sign up for this free and awesome newsletter at http://www.shelf-awareness.com for the latest news and reviews! This review refers to an ARC provided by Shelf Awareness.*** (less)
Fantastic collection of Neil Gaiman's stories from various anthologies and magazines. The stories run the gamut from fantastical to horrifying to surr...moreFantastic collection of Neil Gaiman's stories from various anthologies and magazines. The stories run the gamut from fantastical to horrifying to surreal. I was especially pleased to rediscover "Troll Bridge" and "The White Road," old favorites from my teen years, and I truly loved "Murder Mysteries," in which the Angel of Vengeance has to investigate the murder of a fellow angel, by a fellow angel. I think "Nick Was" is my new favorite Christmas story. As is the case with so many fantasy authors, Gaiman is a wonderful novelist but is explosively, down-and-dirtily good in the short story genre. (less)
Things go bump and worse in the night in this urban fantasy story anthology, edited by George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) and Gardner Dozois (The Ye...moreThings go bump and worse in the night in this urban fantasy story anthology, edited by George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) and Gardner Dozois (The Year's Best Science Fiction series editor). The showcased stories feature detectives who either are paranormal or investigate paranormal crime, ensuring a plethora of vampires, ghosts, shape-shifters and, of course, zombies. While fantasy fans will find favorite names on the cover like Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse series), Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series) and Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson series), they will also encounter top writers from the mystery genre, such as John Maddox Roberts (SPQR series).
This book boasts a stable full of star power. Harris kicks off the lineup with "Death by Dahlia," in which the vampire Dahlia Lynley-Chivers investigates the murder of a human blood donor with her equally undead partner, Matsuda Katamori. Gabaldon's "Lord John and the Plague of Zombies" takes Lord John Grey to Jamaica, where he is ordered to put down a slave rebellion--if the zombies don't get him first. Be sure you don't overlook "Hellbender" from Laurie R. King (Mary Russell series), in which we meet fascinating salamander/human hybrids fighting for basic rights, and "The Difference Between a Puzzle and a Mystery" by up-and-comer M.L.N. Hanover (Black Sun's Daughter series), in which an ordinary cop accepts help from a paranormal expert who isn't what he seems.
Grab this mystifying and chilling collection to start Halloween early this year!
***This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness Readers Edition. Sign up for this free and awesome newsletter at http://www.shelf-awareness.com for the latest news and reviews! This review refers to an ARC provided by Shelf Awareness.*** (less)
I should be reviewing this as I go, or I will probably forget details of stories as I read others, especially since Newford books tend toward characte...moreI should be reviewing this as I go, or I will probably forget details of stories as I read others, especially since Newford books tend toward character overlap.
1. "Somewhere in My Mind, There is a Painting Box": Meh. This story is a typical "guy gets back from Fairyland and doesn't feel comfortable in this world anymore" tale. The writing is the woodsy, lyrical folk song de Lint's fans have come to expect, but the story is flat. Two stars.
2. "Refinerytown": Several old faces come back for this story about collaboration on a graphic novel: Mona, Sophie, Nina, Jilly. The idea for the story apparently came from a private joke the author and his friends have. The plot is, again, a retread: storybook characters come to life to tell their creators to get the story straight. Another meh. Two stars.
3. "A Crow Girls' Christmas": To appreciate this extremely brief story, you must know and love the Crow Girls. The little devil divas get holiday jobs as Santa's Elves, and all goes smoothly...until everyone finds out what happens when you give Crow Girls unlimited access to your candy cane supply. Three stars.
4. "Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion": An ex-con turned cab driver picks up a beautiful stranger who asks him to help get her cat back from her ex-boyfriend, a powerful brujo. Since this story is so trademark de Lint, the surprise ending is no surprise, and leaves loose ends all over the place. Two-ish stars.
5. "Riding Shotgun": By this point, I had started to lose faith in the new anthology. I wanted to see something deeper and darker, and so far, the book was reading like a Christmas card. Not so in this story. Our hero is a recovering alcoholic who accidentally killed his golden boy younger brother in a car crash when they were teens. When he re-encounters the car from the wreck, it sends him back in time with the opportunity to fix the accident, only this time, he winds up dying instead...and learns painful truths about his younger, "better" brother. Four stars.
6. "Sweet Forget-Me-Not": A Lebanese boy is picked on relentlessly by classmates who equate him with Muslim terrorists until he falls in love with a gemmen, a spirit who has only a short time in this world. A little more cloying than sweet. One star.
7. "That Was Radio Clash": A gift allows desperate people to go back in time and fix their mistakes. After "Riding Shotgun," this story seemed redundant, and it certainly isn't as strong. One star.
8. "The Butter Spirit's Tithe": Our hero is the victim of a butter spirit's grudge. The spirit has constantly played tricks on him for seven years, from breaking his guitar strings to making his true love allergic to him, and will soon give him to the old spirit Grey Man as a tithe. But his friend Miki, who lost her brother Dolan in spirit world dealings, isn't about to let it happen. This story was sweetly written and makes use of traditional Celtic myth. Three stars.
9. "Da Slockit Light": Meran and Cerin return, along with cameos by Jilly, the Crow Girls, and Goon. Street people and runaways are disappearing into the goblin realm beneath Newford, and rumor has it that they're being turned into goblins. Meran enlists the help of a teen pickpocket who winds up saving the day. We are left with an interesting message about community and reserving judgment. Three stars.
10. "The Hour Before Dawn": In the hour before dawn, the dead speak to us, but when the sun rises, we forget. But not Jack, a PI who helps ghosts take care of unfinished business on the side. Life gets frustrating when a friend's dead wife sticks around to help Jack clear up his own unfinished business now, while it still matters. A sweet story, but the pushy ghost keeps it from being too sweet. Three stars.
11. "Newford Spook Squad": Okay, I'm glad that the authorities finally formed a task force to investigate all the weird paranormal happenings in Newford. I mean, shape-shifters, goblins, spirits, women manifesting themselves out of the internet? It's high time someone noticed. But Hellboy? Yup, this story features Hellboy and his girlfriend Liz. It's not so much a bad story as it is strange. Fanfiction, in the middle of a Newford collection? Between this and Refinerytown, I feel like de Lint didn't take this collection seriously. Anyway, while Hellboy is accurately described from the physical standpoint, I don't feel his character was captured accurately at all. One star.
12. "In Sight": Ruthie Blue is a black woman who sings folk music despite her name and the stereotype of black people as soul musicians. In this story, she meets a young aspiring artist named Tina and has a conversation with her about music and regrets. The topic of granting wishes and going back to fix the past is broached...yet again. The plot twist at the end is an absolute cliche and didn't add to the story, just left me confused and irritated. One star.
13. "The World in a Box": A man finds a box in an antique store that holds a miniature copy of the world which only he can see. When he whispers his desires to it, they come true, but he quickly learns that playing God isn't all it's cracked up to be. The overall premise is slightly timeworn, but the delivery is original and the story is very well written. Four stars.
Average story rating: 2.3 stars.
Overall: Some stories were definitely worth reading, and de Lint's writing is lyrical and folksy as always. However, this collection lacks the darkness, originality, and magic of older collections. Fans will still love it, but I wouldn't recommend this as a first trip to Newford.(less)
Excellent example of why you should never judge a book by its cover or title! I felt extremely silly checking this out, and I firmly expected it to be...moreExcellent example of why you should never judge a book by its cover or title! I felt extremely silly checking this out, and I firmly expected it to be another book in the vein (yay, I punned.) I was extremely gratified to find myself mistaken.
The book contains three short stories, all of which hinge on a kiss, and all of which are prefaced by graphic prologues (as in graphic novel, not as in graphic sex or violence...sorry.) The illustrations are beautiful and not at all gratuitous; they all provide background information.
The writing is excellent, as is character development, in all three stories. The stories are dark and sly, not sweet or even romantic, although they are quite sensual nonetheless. Only one of them features a real love story, and that love is bought at a very high price indeed.
The only reason I gave this book four stars was the third story, which I felt tried to do too much in such a short space. Otherwise, I would have gladly given the full five. I highly recommend this unusual, inspired collection.
Recommend to: Age 14+, fantasy/horror fans, fans of the current creatures of the night craze in YA lit, graphic novel fans, anyone who appreciates beautiful prose.
Don't recommend to: Anyone sick of the creatures of the night craze...but try them again in a couple of years. (less)