Thursday, October 7, 2010

Death's Excellent Vacation, Edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

I suspect that many readers who pick up Death's Excellent Vacation, a collection of paranormal stories with a vacation theme, will do so for Charlaine Harris' brand-new Sookie Stackhouse story. "Two Blondes" sends telepathic waitress Sookie and vampire Pam out of town to visit a casino and run an errand for vampire sheriff Eric Northman. In the course of their errand, they meet an elf, Pam is drugged, and the two blondes are forced to don scanty outfits and pole-dance. It's a good story and a welcome addition to the Sookie catalog.

There are many other worthy stories in this collection. The second tale, Sarah Smith's "The Boys Go Fishing," features a Superman-like character on an expedition to catch the Loch Ness monster. It's a strange concept, but it works beautifully. Jeaniene Frost's "One For the Money" features engaging vampire characters. "Far Across the Caspian Sea" by Daniel Stashower is in the vein of Kurt Vonnegut's immortal Slaughterhouse Five. Remember the Simpsons Halloween episode where dolphins take over the world? If you do you'll enjoy "The Innsmouth Nook" by A. Lee Martinez. "Safe and Sound" by Jeff Abbott is a twist on true events and a stinging indictment of a well-known cable TV personality.

One of the most enjoyable tales here is "Seeing is Believing" by L. A. Banks. Fans of Sookie Stackhouse will find this Louisiana werewolf tale familiar, yet different enough from the True Blood universe to make it unique.

Surprisingly, I found myself skimming through Katie MacAlister's "The Perils of Effrijim." I usually love Katie MacAlister's brand of comic romance novels, but this short story was a little too steeped in obscure fantasy language to hold my interest. I had a different problem with "Thin Walls" by Christopher Golden: the setup was good, but it seemed to drag in the middle.

The stories improve after that, so bear with this book. "The Heart is Always Right," a gargoyle tale by Lilith Saintcrow, is wonderful. "The Demon in the Dunes" by Chris Grabenstein features a realistic young narrator and a surprising twist. In "Home From America" by Sharan Newman, Pat O'Reilly discovers he's not really an O'Reilly, but has an entirely different Irish heritage. The bookend to this anthology, "Pirate Dave's Haunted Amusement Park," is a werewolf mystery with pirates - who couldn't love that? In all, there is much more to admire here than to skim through.

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