When You’re Strange edited by Sarah Vestal and Danne Boyd (2017) – I’m not sure what’s going on with the cover, but the stories in this themed anthology dramatically bring out the differences and similarities in all of us. Whether you’re an Alice tasked with tracking escapees in the real world, a young collector of souls who foolishly believes wars will be over soon, a young water witch marrying a fire warlock, or a trio of friends trapped in a video game, this collection of stories shows how there are different levels of strangeness, but all of them are intriguing and creative.
Luck of the Draw by Juli Burton – A poor opportunist takes her wealthy roommate’s place at a mysterious card game at a midnight carnival. She should know cheaters never win and rarely keep their souls.
Dead Air by P.C. Keeler – Clever radio interview format with a ghost and a big pharma rep who sells expensive long-life pills harvested from the souls of the recently departed. Loved the name of the radio program.
Almost Always by Jennifer Lee Rossman – A robotic royal courier picks up a wind turbine worker destined to marry the king and stop a war between the Haves and the Have-Nots in the Australian Outback. The robot malfunctions when it discovers the girl is an assassin and overrides its programming to save the king. Or is he worth saving?
Fire and Water by Megan Neumann – In a magical land, a young wife is taken from her family by her new husband and is accused of murdering her mother-in-law. Abandoned by her husband and abused by his family, she’s tied to the stake to be burned alive, but her magic isn’t that of her husband’s. Another intriguing format as the entire story is told in the form of letters from the wife to her younger sister.
Hipsters vs the VCR by Sallie McDaniel – Three friends try an old video game to find themselves drawn into another world, fighting for their lives. The macho guy transferred into the body of a nubile Amazon in a chainmail bikini is great.
Family Reunion by Tori White – A young woman invited to a family gathering really gets to know her relative and discovers what they do with “difficult” family members. Creepy and original.
The Collectors by Lin Christie – A new member of a Collection Crew selected to gather the souls of men killed in battle discovers he’s in for the long haul.
Convincing Vince by Mike L. Lane – A contemporary horror story of an ambitious blogger who enjoys discrediting ghost stories. When he meets a ghost, a train, and an empty town, his wish to be convinced that ghosts really exist ends badly (and surprisingly!) for him. Very atmospheric and I liked the surprise ending a lot.
The Thief of Merrick by Tabitha Di Giacomo – This felt like a great novel. An orphan stealing bread is saved from the river by a woman warrior who belongs to the Order of the Stranger. An interesting tale within a tale explains how the order came to be and provides a life-altering choice for the street urchin.
The Dionesian Wave by Ray Daley – I had the feeling from the beginning this mixed-race marriage wasn’t going to end well. An Earth anthropologist tries to learn his alien wife’s language and a mysterious dance they perform only at great events. After ten years of marriage, he discovers their dark secret and Earth’s tragic future.
Guitaria by A.P. Sessler – Alton has trouble at school. Things break when he plays air guitar. At a high school dance, he shows the bullies and tormentors exactly what kind of monsters he’s playing for. Very Stephen King creepy.
Alice by Lisa Paul – Probably my favorite piece because it has some incredible and imaginative world-building. When her partner escapes Leftworld for the real world, an Alice is sent to retrieve or kill him. To save him from being erased, she reveals their past lives in the real world and in Hell. Loved the Helsings, Alices, and Hatters.
Devour by Danne Boyd – A modern day sin eater runs into difficulty when a necromancer revives an old man so she can absolve him of his sins. When the demon possessing him runs amok, she wonders if it’s worth the money.
Possession by Sarah Vestal – Lena, a cancer patient, enters the mysterious Center for a cure but discovers it’s more of a cult than a clinic. But she’s not really there to be cured. She’s there to burn it to the ground. Which will she choose if both options are open to her?
A fast read, intriguing stories, and a clever theme. But, seriously, what’s up with that cover?