Wicked Things: Lesbian Halloween Short Stories, edited by Astrid Ohletz & Jae (The Reader’s Edition)

wickedthings

Here it is, Ylva Publishing’s Halloween anthology 2014 – which might include a short story by yours truly. But since this is the ‘reader’s edition,’ I’m not gonna talk about that. I have a different post for the ‘writer’s edition’ here.

Let’s talk about the anthology.

14 authors have come together to create 14 amazing stories for our Halloween pleasure. And a true pleasure it is. What I found really wonderful with this anthology is the wide range of (scary) topics these stories cover.

Andi Marquette writes about ghost hunters in a haunted house, May Dawney about a local urban legend seemingly come to life, and Eve Francis about a vampire cop falling off the blood wagon.

And where there are vampires, there are werewolves and hunters. There are also witches and ghosts. But there’s also a lot of attraction between women and some sexy times.

As a person who truly loves Halloween, I couldn’t help but love this anthology. It’s a great read to enjoy with your chocolate-y Halloween treasures or some hot chocolate on a cold October night before a toasty fire. Some of it is scary, some tragic, some erotic, and then there’s somethng for the romantic among you.

All stories are well-written, all are entertaining and some are even better than all that. My favorites? S.M. Harding’s A Winter Story, R.G. Emanuelle’s Strega, and after that all the other stories.

This is an anthology for all those of you who like a good scare, love Halloween, or maybe just enjoy supernatural stories. But even if you only want to read some really great stories about lesbians and their loves – read it. You won’t be disappointed.

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Wild by Meghan O’Brien

wildThis year sees me doing strange things – readingwise. One is that I’m giving into a passion for the supernatural that I never before acknowledged I had. Shape-shifters, vampires and witches, oh my. Yes, it’s also research for my own future endeavor to write a supernatural story but it’s also natural inclination.

Of course, there’s always the romance to go with it and Meghan O’Brien’s Wild has plenty of that. Here’s what it’s about:

When pathologist Eve Thomas is attacked by a man in Golden Gate Park, a wolf comes to her rescue and runs the attacker off. But both the masked guy and the wolf are more than they seem on first sight. The man who attacked Eve is a serial killer in the making, obsessed with Eve who helped the police catch a serial killer before. The wolf is shape-shifter Selene Rhodes with whom Eve falls in love over the course of the novel.

Life and relationships get complicated when one has to hide a part of one’s person and while love hits both women fast and passionately, complete honesty is a hard concept to learn for gun shy Selene. And dealing with a psychopathic killer isn’t easy either.

O’Brien weaves an interesting story. She’s a good story teller, her style is easy and fluid. Eve and Selene are great characters with deep emotions and some insecurities. I also like the idea of the empathetic link between them. For all those reasons, Wild is a great read and I’m confident readers will also enjoy the steamy sex and there’s plenty of it.

At times I thought it was a little bit much but as it fits very well into the story about these two, well, creatures really it at least made sense.

Something I found more difficult to take are the moments of female domination, I want to call it. In a way, it makes sense, again. A shape-shifter is at least part animal and to feel terretorial and overprotective makes sense for Selene. But why Jac, Eve’s ex-girlfriend has to exhibit these traits even more aggressively to a point where she grabs and pulls and pushes Eve around, I just don’t get. And reading scenes like that are rather off-putting. Maybe I’m too sensitive but if a woman behaves that way toward me, I’m telling her off. The whole character of Jac felt too pushy somehow and I didn’t get why Eve would want to stay friends with her. I didn’t like Jac, at all, something I regret because female homicide cops are one of my favorite lesbian stereotypes.

And with stereotypes come clichés and I felt that O’Brien uses a lot of those. I cherish a good cliché, something to be showy about and also make a little fun of. The use of chlichés in Wild seemed overdone and not at all conscious but just in a way as if to say, this has to be so because it’s always been done this way. And using chlichés in that capacity is lame, because it’s exactly how they shouldn’t be used, why they have such a bad reputation, in fact. They make the plot predictable, the characterization suffers and they become annoying when overused.

I must say that it took me a good long while to read this. That was not due to the story but because I’m still not in my regular reading-mode. I’m incredibly slow these days, but it doesn’t reflect on the story. Wild is a good romance with believable thriller elements, and steamy, animalistic sex. O’Brien wrote a great story about a shape-shifter and her characters were well thought-through. I like it, but I don’t love it.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

hpandthedeathlyhallowsFor a moment after reading this, I felt elated that it was over. No more crying. And I think that this is one of the most enticing things about the whole series: it challenges us emotionally. Following Harry Potter’s life at Hogwarts is rewarding in many ways but the best thing about it – at least as far as I’m concerned – is that it makes you feel. A lot. There are not many books I cry over but I feel that the last two books of this series will always accomplish that. And that’s good to know.

Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron, don’t return to Hogwarts for the new school year. They set out on the mission of finding and destroying horcruxes into which Lord Voldemort has infused parts of his soul. But the mission is a dreary one at first since Dumbledore has given them few clues to work with. The strain on the friendship gets overwhelming and Ron leaves the other two after a fight – only to return and save Harry’s life. The friends gain insight into the myth of the Deathly Hallows, are being taken captive by the Malfoy family and barely escape – losing a friend in the process. The return to Hogwarts, finally, brings on a showdown that will cost even more lives but results in the Dark Lord’s death.

I hope that last one wasn’t too much of a spoiler. It’s how all stories must end – evil dies, good endures. Endures because there is no real victory in war, and Rowling knows that. Too many lives had been lost but, for once, the wizarding community actually comes through for Harry Potter as he and his classmates are joined by family and friends. It is not the great assemblage one might want to fight with against a powerful wizard but considering how Harry had been left fighting for everyone for most of the series it is a pleasant surprise.

If there is a weakness in this last book, it is the long passages where things are being explained. I am not saying that it wasn’t necessary, it was – and Rowling makes sure to cover all unanswered questions – but these passages can be a little tiring because they are bulky. Especially the scene with Harry and Dumbledore in King’s Cross and Harry walking through Snape’s memories. As I said, they were necessary but they still make for slow reading.

One thing that I only just realized – or maybe I had only forgotten – is that with all the fear the wizarding world has of Voldemort, he really isn’t that great a wizard. He is cruel, certainly, but he is not as clever as he thought himself, as others thought him either. Seeing his whole story revealed, he is more cunning than clever. And seeing how Grindelwald struck up a friendship with Dumbledore because of a kinship in character, he might have been the stronger opponent.

There are always those small doubting voices in the back of one’s head, asking questions like: why didn’t Dumbledore kill Voldemort? He was the most powerful wizard ever, why give the job to a teenage boy? These questions are certainly valid and I’d say that people should seek for their own answers. I, personally, wouldn’t have wanted to read a story about a very old wizard defeating a younger one who probably never had a chance against him in the first place. The story wouldn’t have had the same appeal. It might make us think less of Dumbledore that with all his power he did not stop Voldemort’s first rise to power, that he didn’t prevent the Potter’s from being killed, but a vengeance story makes for better reading.

About the epilogue Nineteen Years Later. As many have agreed, I could have done without it, too. Especially from the point of view of a fanfiction writer, it would have been nicer if the story hadn’t been closed off this way. It’s a very sentimental piece of writing, assuring the reader that twenty years later all is well still, that even Draco Malfoy can be part of a community that lives just as before. Because what the epilogue does not do is: show progress. Muggles are still looking strangely at progressions of wizarding families, the Hogwarts Express still leaves from platform 9 3/4. And this is where I would have liked to see change, if only a little. It would have been nice to see that after the crises, wizards/witches could have come out to muggles. But Rowling decided that the wizarding community just went back to normal – opening the field for another story just like Potter’s tale where a teenager has to solve the problems of a community that never changes.

There are a lot of things one can praise and criticize within the Harry Potter-series but that makes for even better reading. Harry Potter is a great story, it changed our world.

The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

thewolfgift(Above shows the book cover I have and it’s one of those that really feels nice to touch… that fetish thing again but you should really get that edition to know what I mean.)

I haven’t read in a while – that’s the reason I haven’t written on here, not because I was too lazy to write about what I’ve read. I’ve been writing a lot and sometimes these two occupations that should work together perfectly, don’t work for me at all and then I neglect one or the other. The last few days I did more of the reading again and here’s what I read:

I have read a couple of Anne Rice-novels before, from her vampire-series, but I can’t remember much of it. I know I’ve read Interview With a Vampire and I liked it but that’s pretty much all I remember: that Rice is a really good story-teller of the supernatural, the occult, the mystic. The Wolf Gift certainly proves that once again.

Rice builds a story around 23-year-old Reuben Golding who is bitten by a beast he couldn’t see in a fight for his life. He survives, other than the people who were with him at the time, and he inherits not only a big house but a ‘gift,’ the gift of difference, of wolf-dom, if you will. He’s changing, growing, his hair gets thicker and finally the wolf man breaks out of him and he feels that he has to punish evil, help the innocent. Yes, it reads like a superhero story but, of course, this is only part of it as the ‘superhero’ is part animal, a beast. This beast kills in it’s frenzy, feeding on the evil-doers, hunts them, tears them to pieces. As Reuben comes from a Catholic family (his brother, Jim, is actually a priest) there are musings about morality and religion. Other man wolves appear, the werewolf-myth is turned around, then skillfully resurrected. The great big evil is disposed of and we get to hear the whole myth in the end.

Well, the book has its lenghts, that’s for sure but it’s actually really fascinating how Rice loses herself in Reuben’s transformation, how she describes his struggles, not only with his new identity but with his family, with the outside world. The masterful descriptions of surroundings, smells, food, noises, rain… yes, here is somebody who knows her craft – and in the light of somebody (who will not be named) who tried to resurrect another mystical creature and did a crappy job of it, it almost feels like Rice is showing off. As well she should because she really is that good.

But with all the amazing talent this writer has, she also falls into some tropes I could have done without. The inevitable girlfriend, for example. He finds her in her cabin in the woods as his wolf-self and she’s not afraid. And they have sex, fall in love instantly – while he is still his wolf-self. I don’t know. I simply don’t feel it. He’s huge, he’s hairy, he has just killed some people, and this woman finds all that appealling? I find that a little disconcerting, to be honest. On the whole, the character of Laura takes a long while to become a character at all. She’s there for two-thirds of the book but there are only rare glimpses we get into her character, she seems more like an elongation of Reuben, she’s there to depict him as a loving man, she’s there as a plot-device – and she very rarely becomes anything else. It’s like Rice felt that with all the males around, there should be a female… but then her other female characters, minor characters fail to materialize as vivid as Rice’s males. They either seem caricatures, like Dr. Klopov, or they seem to be mere tropes, stereotypes: mother, girlfriend, true love, the doctor.

Given, most of the male characters are larger than life-myths, vibrant characters that have lived for centuries. They’re supposed to be the ones sticking out but it wouldn’t have hurt the story if there had been at least one female werewolf, surely?

I’m never sure where I stand with female novelists who make males their cherished protagonists and fail to let their female characters have substantial input into the plot, as well. The man/beast myth – yes, I know it’s traditionally just that MAN (not woman)/beast but Rice left the door open for the possibility of a femals werewolf. By the end of the novel that door still stands wide open but is never filled with a woman wolf. You can argue that Rice sticks to what she does best: describing the struggles of man – sometimes I’m just tired of patriarchal story-telling and wish that female authors would write more and better about their own gender (and I’m aware that I’m laying too much emphasis on gender here).

What Rice certainly does – and does well – is include gay-ness into her novels. The whole theme of werewolf-being can easily be read as homosexuality but Rice divides the two as she writes gay characters. That’s certainly commendable. If we see the man wolf as superhero, and that trope is certainly strong with Reuben, we have to attach the same trope to Stuart, an out 16-year-old, who gets accidentally bitten by Reuben. The same goes for Felix Nideck whom I read as gay even though it is never actually said out loud. Sexuality isn’t the big gay elephant in the room unless you want to make a point that Reuben’s heterosexuality is advocated a little bit too vehemently (but maybe that’s just me being sensitive because there’s never a good enough reason to use the word ‘impale’ in that context).

The Wolf Gift is a solid novel, it does what it promises to do: resurrect a myth – and there’s certainly no one in this genre who does that better than Anne Rice. It’s a little showy at times, yes, it lies heavily on moral contemplations, on the question of god/s and religion but it is still an enjoyable read. It captivates the reader, it overwhelms them in it’s lusciousness, and there’s certainly room for deep interpretation – and maybe a sequel.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter returns for another year in Hogwarts. Things got heated during the summer since everybody now knows that Voldemort is back and as dangerous as ever. Cornelius Fudge got booted from his job as Minister for Magic, and his successor Rufus Scrimgeour seems a rather more stern fellow but not anymore able as it turns out. While the ministry shuffles around in the dark, Harry gets the suspicion that Malfoy is now a Death Eater and has evil on his mind – but nobody agrees. Dumbledore does shady business and leaves the school for days. And then there are a lot of feelings who get hurt when Ron starts snogging Lavender, Ginny Dean, and Remus not Tonks.

I chose “romance” as a tag for this Potter-book because there is a lot of falling in love going around. The most unexpected revelation is probably the one of Harry falling in love with Ginny, Ron’s sister. A lot of fans were never happy about this, and as a romance writer I can see why: Rowling does not give this romance enough room to grow. All of a sudden, Harry is in love with Ginny and fans look at this page and say: what? why? I am not saying that Rowling did not write some lovely scenes from during the summer where Harry and Ginny had some lovely times, yet they did not make the editing process and the reader is lost in a daze as to what happened when and why (this could be a hole for fanfiction writers to fill, and there may be some of that out there – then again, as I understand it, Harry and Ginny are not really a favorite with fanfiction writers).

It is no wonder that the relationship between Ron and Hermione is much better, it grows over several books, is never front and center but always palpable. And there is a lot of jealousy in this installation of the series when Ron freaks because he is the only kissing-virgin of the foursome and starts wildly snogging Lavender Brown who is a willing participant but never gets over the fact that Hermione knows her “Won-Won” a lot better than she does. The love theme gets a lot of attention in this book with Bill and Fleur engaged and Tonks heart-broken because Remus shuts himself off from her. As a natural phase of the coming-of-age-process, these scenes certainly make sense but they seem to crowd the plot which is already multi-layered.

And it is not coming along as smoothly as in the other books. There are a lot of references to things that have already happened – not surprising considering how long this story has been going on. But Rowling adds flashback into Voldemort/Tom Riddle’s life to the mix and it gets a little confusing and I think there may be some continuity mistakes somewhere in there though I could not put my finger on any particular spot.

The main weakness of the book, in my opinion, are the inconsistencies in some of the characters for plot’s sake. Especially pronounced in Dumbledore in this book. Sometimes he is overly stern, then kind and playful as ever. The demand he makes of Harry to retrieve the memory he himself was not able to retrieve seems out of character. Why would Harry have more power than the one wizard Voldemort fears and all the Ministers for Magic want to be best friends with? For someone who surrounds himself with the most powerful, Slughorn seems wholly unaware that Dumbledore himself is probably the most powerful person of his acquaintance. The more annoying plot-device, however, is everybody’s blind eye when it comes to Malfoy’s shenanigans. It makes sense that Dumbledore does not want to draw attention to Malfoy so as not to endanger him but Hermione and Ron were always willing to give Harry credit on any far-fetched suspicion he had but the idea that Malfoy was a Death Eater suddenly raises disbelief? As I said, for plot’s sake but still highly unlikely.

As a declared Hermione-fan, I am not happy with the representation of my favorite in this book. While I get her jealousy where Ron and Lavender are concerned, and even her suspicion toward the potion-book, her character is decided by these instances. Her character does not develop during this story.

Reading this over, one could get the idea that I did not like it at all. I did, though. There are a lot of good ideas, the plot how Malfoy is getting the Death Eaters into the school is very good, the small detail of how Ron failed his Apparition-test is glorious, and the idea of the potion book is excellent. On the whole, though, I must say that I enjoyed the first four books more than either book five or six. But I know that the whole story is more valuable and fantastic than its parts – Harry Potter is a phenomenon of a whole generation (maybe even of future generations), and I cherish it as such and as a good story.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

This is bad, this is very bad, the voice in my head repeated again and again.”

This is a quote from the book but it also describes my feelings toward it perfectly. Because it is indeed bad, very bad. It’s been awhile since I read the first book of the series, Twilight, and found it abominable. The whole franchise seems to me to be a money machine without reason of existence. I guess you can say that about a lot of things – especially things that come out of Hollywood. But this is actually a book series that was successful before it has been made into movies. And this is just something I do not understand. So, I read the first book mostly to find out what the hype was about. But I wasn’t any wiser after reading it. Nor did film one and three of the series enlighten me at all.

The biggest problem of the series, in my opinion at least, is the I-narrator, Bella Swan herself. She seems like a typical teenager, the voice in the book is annoying, it is self-centered. But I am not sure that this is the writer’s intention or merely the voice of the writer as well as the narrator. In other words, is Stephenie Meyer just skillfully producing a teenage voice or is she writing in this voice because her skill is that of a 17-year-old (18-year-old in New Moon). I think it is the latter. The fact that Bella is self-centered, though, is not the biggest problem she has. She is painfully insecure, and though I see many a female teenager having this problem, I do hope that in most of them it is not quite so severe. The way she worships her boyfriend is not healthy. She sees him at mainly a god to her own insignificance, cannot understand how someone like him can love someone like her. Another quote:

“The contrast between the two of us was painful. He looked like a god. I looked very average, even for a human, almost shamefully plain. I flipped the picture over with a feeling of disgust.”

Unhealthy. This girl needs a confidence boost and quick. In the novel she seems to get this when Edward leaves her. I know she is mainly complaining about that whole in her chest for the next 300 pages but her desire to hear his voice in her head leads her to some independent decisions that defy the strong patriarchal hold that Edward and Charlie have on her. The motivation might be an idiotic one but at least Bella is starting to live like a more normal teenager, rebelling against paternal supervision. Of course, she always has Jacob Black with her for protection, just so that it doesn’t get too wild. But though also has the tendency to treat her like a rag doll rather than a young woman, he at least does not have a god-complex. While many have complained about the boredom of the middle of the book, I actually liked that part better than the rest for the fact that Edward was not in it and that Jacob behaved more like a friend to Bella than Edward could ever be. In this part, I actually thought I got a glimpse of what makes the books successful. But it is actually all that stuff that I abhorr that other people love, the destructive relationship between Bella and Edward.

Sometimes I see Edward as a stalker, than as an emotionally abusive boyfriend. His hold over Bella is tight and he does not even understand how many issues Bella has with her own self and how she only lives to look at his beautiful face, hear his voice. He always repeats that he loves her (in the end) but never gives a reason. He does not assure her, it seems to be only her smell that binds him to her, not her personality (what personality?), not even her beauty. It’s more animalistic than Meyer wants us to realize. Altogether Meyer seems to want us believe that there is something nobel, something beyond pure animalism about the vampires but she can never quite convincingly discribe what that noble part is. The fact that they don’t eat humans? The fact that they have their temper under better control than their nemeses, the werewolves.

In comparison, the werewolf is a much more likable figure than the vampire. At least, Jacob understands that his werewolf-self makes him into something “other,” not better – as Edward seems to think of his vampire-self. And maybe it is me, I mean, I have realized while watching the Underworld-movies that I like the story about lycans better than the vampire-stuff but honestly: would you rather sleep next to a cold marble pillar or a warm puppy dog? Even I would chose the puppy and I am actually afraid of dogs.

To sum it up, this is a bad novel. If you’ve never encountered one of those you may think this is tolerable but it is not. The writing is poor, Meyer clobbers her readers over the head with foreshadowing, when she is not throwing weird analogies at us. Subtlety is obviously not in her repertoire, nor is character-development or interesting story-telling. It actually makes me very sad that this is the vampire-story that sets the standard for coming vampire-stories, simply because it was so successful. And I still don’t know why that is.

Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. Little, Brown, and Company, London (2009).