Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: Home Improvement: Undead Edition anthology

Home Improvement: Undead Edition
Home Improvement: Undead Edition by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I always have a hard time rating anthologies, because my enjoyment varies so widely from one to the next that my rating rarely reflects my enjoyment as a whole. It took me a while to get through this, because most of the stories I really liked were sandwiched between ones I really didn't, and that made me pause before I moved on to each new story.

And so, here is my assessment of each story within this anthology:

"If I Had a Hammer" by Charlaine Harris is a Sookie short story about her helping her friend Tara fix up her new house. I realize such short stories can't affect the narrative of the novels, because it's unfair to those who don't want to track down the short stories, but the story lacked substance. It introduced a "magical negro" in Tara's black nanny, who's psychic and leads to the resolution of the haunting, and includes a gay character who committed suicide. Maybe the story was fine around those elements, but I had trouble stomaching it.

"Wizard Home Security" by Victor Gischler is about a magical security system, and what happens when it turns against you. Not a lot of substance to this story, either, but at least it was amusing, and the inclusion of a zombie bear wins it points.

"Gray" by Patricia Briggs is about a vampire making amends to the man she loved as a human, and killed when she became undead. This was an unexpected high point of the anthology. It was sweet and self-contained, and it made me want to look into Patricia Briggs' books.

"Squatters' Rights" by Rochelle Krich is about a young Jewish couple moving into their first home, where the previous wife killed her husband and herself. The wife is affected by the same forces. I liked how the first-person narrative showed plainly that she was losing her mind, and the conclusion made me shiver.

"Blood on the Wall" by Heather Graham was about a PI in New Orleans tracking down a werewolf who seems determined to pin its crimes on the local cult leader. The cult leader's conversion from a power-hungry manipulator to a productive member of society with a healthy dose of humility made this deeper than I'd come to expect from this anthology.

"The Mansion of Imperatives" by James Grady was my least favorite of the stories. It tells of two couples going out to the middle of nowhere to fix up a house, and the owner who's eager to be rid of it. The story is told in a detached, tell-y style that made me wish I'd skipped it entirely.

"The Strength Inside" by Melissa Marr is about two supernatural sisters trying to pretend they're human, until the head of the Homeowner's Association comes by. Intriguing worldbuilding and a creepy ending, but I couldn't help but feel there was something missing from the narrative.

"Woolsey's Kitchen Nightmare" by E.E. Knight presents a world in which vampires, werewolves and zombies live outside society's notice, but they have a mainstream society of their own. Woolsey goes to a restaurant catering to supernatural clientele in Wisconsin, just in time for the famous would-be entrée to escape. The ending made me chuckle.

"Through This House" by Seanan McGuire is the whole reason I bought the anthology, and it didn't disappoint. Toby Daye has her own knowe, but other creatures have set up house in it during its vacancy. With the help of her friends, she's ready to make it ready for habitation. But first, she has to turn on the lights. This story has some serious spoilers for Late Eclipses, so I'd advise you read that before you pick up the short story. The story, itself, doesn't disappoint. There's no Tybalt, but we all know Toby can carry a story all on her own.

"The Path" by S.J. Rozan is about the ghost of a timid Buddhist monk trekking to NYC to retrieve the head of the statue that was stolen from his cave. It, too, is told in a detached style, and the description of a mountain's expressions being its weather patterns and rock slides quickly grew tiresome. I don't know a lot about the author, but it sounded like she was trying really hard to sound Asian.

"Rick the Brave" by Stacia Kane is about a contractor who goes to fix up a house that's infested with aggressive ghosts. He's never seen a ghost face-to-face, but he has to face a room filled with them, along with a witch named Chess. His ignorance about the process of banishing ghosts proved a good point of entry for those of us who haven't read any of Kane's other books. I can see myself picking her stuff up, on the strength of this short story.

"Full-Scale Demolition" by Suzanne McLeod wasn't terrible, but, in a market saturated with urban fantasy, her London UF about a faerie with no magic didn't stand out. I gathered there was supposed to be tension between her and the kelpie guy, but I just didn't feel it. The story is about a sidhe who catches pixies, and who's lured into a cannibalistic ritual by a lamia.

"It's All in the Rendering" by Simon R. Green is about a house that sits on the boundary between worlds, when inspectors from both worlds come by on the same day. The whole point of the story seemed to be to introduce the reader to the house and its premise, and therefore the plot was thin. The dialogue consisted mostly of "as you know, Bob . . .", which I detest. The story had potential, but wasted it on showing off its cutesy gimmicks.

"In Brightest Day" by Toni L.P. Kelner is about a voudou practitioner who raises a well-known architect to finish his final project, and solves the mystery of his death, along the way. The story amused me, and played with the tropes, though I wish the main character hadn't been the only exception to the personality types of houngans. Also, the description of a typical houngan clung too closely to that of a traditional Romani for me to give it a pass. That the main character darkened her skin and wore a black, curly wig to fit the expected role made me squirm.

I think this collection does have its high points, but, overall, most of the stories were disappointing, or they were a slog. Based on this must-read of their anthologies, I have to take the rest of the Harris/Kelner anthologies off my to-read list. If this is what I can expect, well, never mind.

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