I do not think I am the target reader for a short story. I value stories that have complete resolutions. I want characters that have had the chance to rise and fall, succeed and fail, and sometimes more than once. These things are not always the aim of a short story. I get that, and yet I keep going back to these collections.
This is one of the first collections that I have read that are all written by different authors. Though each story centers on magic and the women at the center of that magic, the entire book felt slightly disjointed on the whole. There were too many shifts between family drama, horror, urban fantasy, and more for the entire collection to feel fully cohesive.
My top three short stories were Widows’ Walk, Bless Your Heart, and Last Stop on Route Nine. Widows’ Walk had a wonderful Practical Magic feel to it (the movie version at least) which really resonated with me. A group of powerful widow witches looks out for the downtrodden young women of their city and taken them under their wing, punishing those who did them wrong along the way. Bless Your Heart tells the story of a witch momma protecting and avenging her gay son in a conservative Southern town. What starts as a family drama of sorts shifts into some wonderfully gruesome body horror. Last Stop on Route Nine truly scared me. This story is of two Black family members who end up lost and hunted in a backwoods Florida road. I read this story on my patio and when the industrial A/C of the office building across from my apartment building turned on, I jumped and screamed because I was so on edge.
Below are my ratings an few stray thoughts on some of the stories.
An Invitation to a Burning by Kat Howard (3/5)
Widows’ Walk by Angela Slatter (5/5)
Black Magic Momma: An Otherworld Story by Kelley Armstrong (4/5) – this one set up this world nicely. Based on the title, I assume it’s part of an established universe which I would love to read more of.
The Night Nurse by Sarah Langan – I don’t know, y’all. A white woman wrote a story of a Black night nurse practicing Voodoo and stealing babies. It’s not overtly bad, but it’s got the aroma. (2/5)
The Memories of Trees by Mary SanGiovanni (5/5)
Home: A Morganville Vampires Story by Rachel Caine (5/5) – another story that sets up a universe I would read more of. Gives a lot of True Blood vibes.
The Deer Wife by Jennifer McMahon (2/5) – beautifully written but felt more like a writing experiment than a full fledged story
The Dance by Kirstin Dearborn (3/5)
Bless Your Heart by Hillary Monahan (5/5)
The Debt by Ania Ahlborn (2/5) – Boo! In which an ending undoes the story.
Toil & Trouble: A Dark-Hunter Hellchaser Story by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Madaug Kenyon (2/5) – See note from above
Last Stop on Route Nine by Tananarive Due (5/5)
Where Relics Go to Dream and Die by Rachel Autumn Deering (3/5)
This Skin by Amber Benson (?/5) – I really don’t know. This story sticks out the most as the story that doesn’t fully belong in this collection, and I really cannot land on rating.
Haint Me Too by Chesya Burke (4/5)
The Nekrolog by Helen Marshall (3/5) – I didn’t like this story, yet there is something so compelling about it
Gold Among the Black by Alma Katsu (3/5)
How to Become a Witch-Queen by Theodora Goss (4/5) – A really great and inventive fairy tale retelling