Monday, February 27, 2006

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, by Henry Farrell

(pb; 1960)

From the back cover:

“Baby Jane, a child star of early vaudeville, resented having to grow up in the shadow of her prettier sister Blanche Hudson, who became Hollywood’s reigning love goddess. Now, some fifty years later, they are together and alone. And reality has toppled crazily into eerie fantasy.

“Blanche now finds she is growing old in the shadow cast by Baby Jane – and a very sinister shadow it is.”

Review:

This gothic tale of sisterly love gone seriously wrong is at once beautiful and ugly. Beautiful because there is a weird kind of love between the two sisters, the invalid Blanche (whose films many people remember) and Baby Jane, whose petulant, erratic star waned the moment their parents died. Ugly because there’s a malevolent, creepy undertone to this novel, an undertone that doesn’t take long to rise to the troubling surface: consistently shocking, sad, with some great twists, this is a perfect read.



Two movies resulted from this novel.

The first version was released stateside on October 31, 1962.

Bette Davis played Baby Jane Hudson. Joan Crawford played Blanche Hudson. Victor Buono as Edwin Flagg.

Robert Aldrich directed the film, from a script by Lukas Heller.



The second version aired on American television on February 17, 1991. David Greene directed the film, from a script by Brian Taggert.

Vanessa Redgrave played Blanche Hudson. Lynn Redgrave, Vanessa's real-life sister, played Jane Hudson. John Glover played Billy. Amy Steel played Connie. Bruce A. Young played Dominick.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk

(hb; 2002)

From the jacket flap:

“Carl Streator is a solitary widower and fortyish newspaper reporter who is assigned to do a series of articles on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In the course of this investigation, he discovers an ominous thread: the presence on the scenes of these deaths of the anthologies Poems and Rhymes Around the World, opened to the page where there appears an African chant or ‘culling song.’ This song turns out to be lethal when spoken or even thought in anyone’s direction – and once it lodges in Streator’s brain, he finds himself becoming an involuntary serial killer. So he teams up with a real estate broker, one Helen Hoover Boyle, who specializes in selling haunted (or ‘distressed’) houses (wonderfully high turnover), and who lost a child to the culling song years before.

"Together they set out on a cross-country odyssey. Their goal is to remove all copies of the book from libraries, lest this deadly verbal virus spread and wipe out human life.

"Accompanying them on their road trip are Helen’s assistant, Mona Sabbat, an exquisitely earnest Wiccan, and her sardonic ecoterrorist boyfriend, Oyster, who is running a scam involving fake liability claims and business blackmail. Welcome to the new nuclear family...”

Review:

Another edgy literary puzzle from Palahniuk, who specializes in this odd journalistic style. There’s lots of pitch black humor, necrophilia, off-kilter characters (especially Oyster, the antagonistic Earth-First hippie), unexpected bizarre twists and an ending that, true to Palahniukian form, brings the reader back to the start of the tale.

Not as focused as Fight Club, it’s better than Diary and Survivor (both of which I greatly admire).

If you have a morbid sense of humor, you should read this. I literally howled with laughter while doing so.

Great stuff from a great writer.

Holidays On Ice, by David Sedaris

(pb; 1997)

From the back cover:

Holidays On Ice collects six of David Sedaris’s most profound Christmas stories into one slender volume perfect for use as a last-minute coaster or ice scraper. This drinking man’s companion can be enjoyed by the warmth of a raging fire, the glow of a brilliantly decorated tree, or even in the backseat of a van or police car. It should be read with your eyes, felt with your heart, and heard only when spoken to. It should, in short, behave much like a book...”

Overall review:

This slim mini-volume of six stories – spanning 134-pages – should appeal to those whose idea of a perfect Christmas flick is Bad Santa (2005) or The Ref (1994), particularly the stories “SantaLand Diaries,” “Season’s Greetings To Our Friends & Family!!!,” and “Christmas Means Giving.” The writing, generally speaking, is good, but I’d recommend one of Sedaris’s other anthologies (Me Talk Pretty One Day) over this, as this is an uneven literary mix.

Review, story by story:

“SantaLand Diaries”: Sedaris reveals (and revels in, and bitches about) the seedy underside of chain-store Santas and elves, and the idiots, known as the public, that come to see them. Occasionally sad, sometimes horrific, and often hilarious, Sedaris turns SantaLand into a microcosmic commentary of our society. My favorite story in this bunch.

“Season’s Greetings to Our Friends & Family!!!”: A newsletter from a woman (Jocelyn Dunbar) which starts out cheerful, but quickly devolves into a rant, filled with black humor, exclamation points and family dysfunction, all taken to an insane level. I gasped more than I laughed at how nasty – and infinitely ugly – this over-the-top “newsletter” gets. Author Sedaris overplays the shocking humor of the piece here and there, but anybody who reads this won’t forget it anytime soon. Solid, but long.

“Dinah, the Christmas Whore”: Lisa Sedaris, David’s older (and then eighteen-year old) sister, rescues an abused alcoholic prostitute from an abusive boyfriend by bringing her over to the Sedaris household during the holidays. Less over-the-top and funny than the two previous stories, it’s well-written, and like the aforementioned stories, has a worthwhile point to make.

“Front Row Center With Thaddeus Bristol”: Boring, meant-to-be-funny-but-it’s-not skewering of elementary school Christmas plays. It’s mercifully brief (less than ten pages), but it lacks the spark and wit that usually highlights Sedaris’s writing.

“Based Upon A True Story”: A smug, pushy television producer tries to win the support of redneck churchgoers so he can get a woman’s permission to film her life story. This is intermittently funny, but the story fizzles out long before its ending.

“Christmas Means Giving”: Two well-to-do suburban families compete for status among their neighborhood peers. Sedaris takes the story-title sentiment to gory, occasionally shocking lengths, but its gallows humor is largely inspired, even with its predictable ending. Great story.

Private Wars, by Greg Rucka

(hb; 2005)

From the inside flap:

“Tara Chace was once the most dangerous woman alive. And now that the international spy network thinks that she’s as good as dead, she’s even more dangerous than ever.

“Only one thing could coax Tara back into the game: a chance to vindicate herself. The torture and execution of Dina Malikov has set off a cut-throat grab for power in strategically crucial Uzbekistan. Tara’s job is to slip into the country and extract Dina’s pro-Western husband and their young son before they are murdered – by his ruthless sister.

“But there are a couple of wild cards in the deck, including a missing mobile weapons system that can bring down a commercial airliner, not to mention powerful political careers. Now, s she vanishes into hostile territory with a man who may or may not be what he seems, Tara is going to find that the war on terror is more terrifying than anyone knows. For in a battle where betrayal is a conventional weapon, loyalty is a weakness, and anyone – even a child – is a legitimate target: it’s every spy, every woman for herself.”

Review:

The second Queen & Country novel, a direct sequel to A Gentleman’s Game, is one of the best action-espionage novels I’ve read in a long time. Whereas A Gentleman’s Game was a set-up novel – filled with interdepartmental backstabbing and character histories – this is a welcome blast of literary violence, with well-rendered, complex characters: few of the characters are shown to be wholly innocent or malevolent (not even the reprehensible Ahtam Zahidov, who would make a worthy henchman to a James Bond villain). Balancing the brutality, rape included, is a tenderness that ultimately bookends this exciting, can’t-put-it-down actioner.

This tenderness stems from the fact that Tara becomes a mother, and therefore a more fully-realized character; Tom Wallace, her now-dead lover from A Gentleman’s Game, is the father of her daughter, Tasmin.

Tara takes refuge from her grief in Barnoldswick, England, in the home of Tom’s mother, Valerie. But when Paul Crocker, Tara’s former boss, asks her for help, Tara discovers she can’t refuse, despite her newfound maternal instincts.

Like the best action-espionage novels and films, Private Wars shows the consequences of the violence it depicts, emotional as well as physical. While Rucka is not as graphic as some writers (Jack Ketchum comes to mind), he doesn’t flinch from the harsh realities of the world he’s writing about.

Rucka provides enough backstory in Private Wars that one doesn’t need to read its predecessor, A Gentleman’s Game. However, to fully enjoy the often-unspoken nuances of the characters’ interactions, the international politics (and personal betrayals that accompany them), and the sense of what’s gone before, it might be recommended that one do so.

This is a must-read novel for those who like their literary kicks hard, fast and bloody.

The Ice Harvest, by Scott Phillips

(hb; 2000)

From the inside flap:

“For most, the city is closing up. For a few outsiders, this night, Christmas Eve 1979, is just beginning. Charlie Arglist is a lawyer saying good-bye to Wichita by revisiting the landscape of his used-up life: the cold stare of his angry ex-wife, the empty strip clubs and bars where loneliness turns a profit, the frozen glare of ex-lovers and cops long snuggled in his deep pockets. Club owner Renata, a woman too elegant for the smoky dive she owns, dreams of financial prosperity and holds a single frame of stolen film that could help her achieve it. And there’s Vic. He’s got a reputation, a bad temper, and a secret worth half a million dollars. Not to mention a knack for bringing people together... for the last time. Before the night is over, the decisions they face and the choices they make will irrevocably alter the course of their lives – if they can live long enough to see Christmas Day sunrise.”

Review:

This fast-blast of a novel (it runs 217 pages) sports some serious nastiness, all of it funny. Arglist is the typical noir schmoe, whose dim-bulb notions and moral ambiguity lead him into some big-time fuck-ups, a number of them involving greed, treachery and dead bodies. Renata is a classic femme fatale with a mysterious past, who could be kind-hearted, or extraordinarily cruel. That is to say, it’s a quintessential noir tale, with solid twists, some truly mean people and an ending that will either make you laugh out loud, or piss you off.

I read this in less than two hours (there were a few interruptions). Great, fun read, especially for those who love noir and black comedy.

This became a film in 2005. John Cusack starred as Charlie Arglist; Connie Nielsen, as Renata; Billy Bob Thornton, as Vic. Harold Ramis (who co-starred in the Ghostbuster films, Stripes, and As Good As It Gets) directed this film, as well as others, including Caddyshack (1980), Vacation (1983), Groundhog Day (1993) and Bedazzled (2000).

50 Ways to Support Lesbian & Gay Equality, edited by Meredith Maran with Angela Watrous

(pb; 2005: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

“Homosexuality has been politicized, but all the controversy fades in the face of a real, live person who deserves basic human rights and freedoms. A timely and crucial guide for action, 50 Ways to Support Lesbian & Gay Equality offers informative and poignant essays that will deepen understanding while suggesting simple things you can do to achieve equality.”

Among the authors:

“Candace on coming out every day; Rev. Troy Perry on taking a leap of faith; Rebecca Walker on liberating ourselves from our labels; Kate Kendall on protecting gay families; Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, on stopping hate before it kills; Margaret Cho on grabbing the brass ring of equality; plus, Amnesty International, ACLU, HRC, PFLAG, GLAAD, COLAGE, GLSEN, and more.”

Review:

Straight-forward, brief essays make up this lean non-fiction read. Bullet-listed suggestions, under the heading “Steps For Equality,” follow each essay, often showing websites and contact information for contacting certain LGBT-friendly organizations. (“LGBT” is an acronym for “Lesbian, Gay Bi-Sexual Transgender,” by the way.) The subjects range from family matters / gay adoption, to different legal matters, to gay marriage (of course), “don’t-ask-don’t-tell,” and to other less-addressed issues, such as the truths about intersex children (kids born with a mix of male-female genitals).

I didn’t get a new perspective on LGBT matters (I'm already friendly towards their cause), but there were many websites and organizations I was made aware of, and there were everyday nuances I found out about (e.g., the specificity of transgender related phrases, like “drag king,” a woman who dresses up like a man, etc.).

Subtitled “the complete guide to supporting family, friends and neighbors – or yourself,” this was a handy research resource (for me), as well as a thought-provoking read, on occasion. Worth reading, though many of the essays offered the same suggestions on how to become more active in the gay-societal struggle.

All to the better, I say. It simply drives home some basic points about how we all can improve – if we do it right – our interactions, perhaps in a larger sense.

Heavy Metal and You, by Christopher Krovatin

(hb; 2005: YA novel)

From the inside flap:

“Boy listens to lots of loud music and hangs with his friend.

“Boy meets girl.

“Boy falls dippy-happy-scared-as-hell in love with girl.

“Friends meet girl – and aren’t impressed.

“Girl meets friends – and isn’t impressed.

“Boy meets big dilemma.

“Boy plays music even louder.

“Big dilemma meets big, sometimes unexpected decisions.

“With humor and heart, Heavy Metal and You strikes some very loud chords about life, love, sex, and friendship. If Nick Hornby had a metalhead little brother, he’d write a book as clever, music-drenched, and observationally direct as this...”

Review:

Sam Markus, a seventeen-year old diehard metalhead, falls for Melissa, a beautiful preppie girl. They’re clearly not meant for each other – further evidenced by Sam’s friends’s repeated disgust and questions of “Are you sure she’s right for you?” However, Sam and Melissa, notable opposites, are madly in love.

Author Krovatin does a lot of name-dropping of metal bands (with specific songs and CDs noted), almost too much. While this is consistent with Sam’s professed love of metal, it initially threatens to overwhelm the budding story; thankfully, the name-dropping levels off enough to let the story run its natural course.

Krovatin has crafted a loving homage to a music genre too often relegated to stupidity (by its adherents, as well as those who dislike its ‘noise’), and blind romance, particularly teenage romance. The tale follows a predictable plot arc, but Krovatin’s emotionally-aware, lightning-fast writing and realistic, complex characters make this a worthwhile read. That, and the fact that Krovatin loves Slayer (one of the best bands ever, as far as I’m concerned) and the writings of Nick Hornby (whom Krovatin mentions), an admirable writer.

In Heavy Metal and You Krovatin emulates Hornby’s writing (specifically the novel, High Fidelity) too much for my comfort, but aside from that, this is a fine read. I’m sure once Krovatin finds his own literary identity – this is a first novella – he’ll be a force to reckon with.

The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum

(pb; 1989)

From the back cover:

“Suburbia. Shady, tree-lined streets, well-tended lawns and cozy homes. A nice, quiet place to grow up. Unless you are teenage Meg or her crippled sister, Susan. On a dead-end street, in the dark, damp basement of the Chandler house, Meg and Susan are left captive to the savage whims and rages of a distant aunt who is rapidly descending into madness. It is a madness that infects all three of her sons – and finally the entire neighborhood. Only one troubled boy stands hesitantly between Meg and Susan and their cruel, torturous deaths. A boy with a very adult decision to make...”

Review:

Many reviewers have commented on the mounting, sickening brutality of this novel, and how the real-life horror of most mainstream novels pale in comparison. And I’d agree, for the most part – though I feel that Ketchum’s Stranglehold, which left me furious at how effectively gut-churning it is – is way more sickening than The Girl Next Door.

Anyhow, back on point...

The novel starts off with David, as an adult with two failed marriages (which stem from the events he’s about to describe), looking back on his early adolescence, when he met outgoing Meg (whom he gets an instant crush on) and her shy sister, Susan. This adolescence should be a sweet, innocent time, but for Ruth, Meg and Susan’s increasingly cruel aunt, whose tortures of the two girls are initially aided by her three sons – and eventually the other neighborhood kids.

David’s tone is angry, bitter from the get-go, the early melancholy of his recollections spiked with the aforementioned anger. As time goes by, and Meg – herself often the embodiment of this melancholy – endures more humiliations from the drunken, disconcerting Ruth, the tone of the novel becomes more troubling, more nasty... in an adult, sexual way.

To describe more would spoil the horrors this novel has to offer. It’s a roller coaster affair, seen from David’s conflicted, guilty point of view, with Ketchum’s steady, non-gratuitous writing making this a can’t-put-down read. I was by turns sad, angry and ill, but I never wanted to stop reading this, because I hoped that Ruth would get her comeuppance, and that Meg and Susan would get away...

Great book, if you’re willing to be disturbed by all-too-familiar, headline-aping cruelties.

In his post-novel “Author’s Note: On Writing The Girl Next Door,” Ketchum describes the real-life case which inspired the novel, about how angry the case-related news story made him – so furious that he had to write about it to purge it from his system. This “Author’s Note” is no less potent than the novel that precedes it.

The new reprinted editions of The Girl Next Door are also graced with two post-novel short stories, “Do You Love Your Wife?” and “Returns”.

“Do You Love Your Wife?” is a solid story about a man (Bass) who pines for a long-gone lover while (possibly) losing another, more current one. The ending’s unexpectedly gentle, the end-line multilayered.

A man haunts his self-destructive alcoholic wife (Jill) and Zoey (his beloved cat) in “Returns”. I’ve read this story before – it’s also an addendum story in a Ketchum novella, Right To Life – and it tore me apart the first time, seeing what a bitch Jill is, and what she’s capable of. Reading this a second time, I was no less affected: this story genuinely horrifies me, nearly moved me to tears. One of Ketchum’s best stories, ever.

The Girl Next Door is set to be released as a film in 2007. Daniel Manche plays David Moran. Blythe Auffarth plays Meg Laughlin. William Atherton plays David Moran, as an adult. Gregory Wilson directs.

Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming


(pb; 1953: first book in the original 007/James Bond series)


Review:

The first James Bond novel finds British Secret Service agent James Bond matching wits with Le Chiffre, a SMERSH* financial associate/agent in Royale-les-Eaux. Bond’s mission is to break Le Chiffre, who’s in financial – and possibly fatal – trouble. Bond has helpers: Felix Leiter, a CIA agent (later a recurring character in the series); Mathis (a French agent); and Vesper Lynd, a fellow Secret Service agent.

However, things go awry when Lynd gets kidnapped by Le Chiffre -- and that's just the start of Bond and his fellow agents' problems.

The tone of this novel is abrasive, occasionally violent and taciturn, much like Bond himself. This is not the suave Bond seen in the films: he’s a lady killer, but his view of women (particularly fellow agents) is much darker and misogynistic.

Since Casino is the first novel of a series, there is a lot of set-up. The action sequences are sparse, but when they happen -- later in the book -- it is especially nasty. The ending, especially the last line, is a brutal and effective set-up for the Bond novels that follow.

Casino is an initially awkward, but ultimately raw and worthwhile read.

(*SMERSH is Fleming’s fictional Russian equivalent of the British Secret Service. The acronym SMERSH is “a conjunction of two Russian words: ‘Smyert Shpionam,’ meaning roughly: ‘Death to Spies.’”).

Followed by Live And Let Die.

#


The first version of Casino Royale was filmed for television – a disappointing effort, from what I’ve read.

#

The comedic second version, "suggested" by the source novel, was released stateside in movie theaters on April 28, 1967.

David Niven played Sir James Bond. Charles Boyer played Le Grand. William Holden played Ransome. Kurt Kasznar played Smernov. John Huston played "McTarry aka M". Deborah Kerr played "Agent Mimi aka Lady Fiona". (John Huston also directed the "scenes at James Bond's house" and the "castle at Scotland scenes.")

Woody Allen played "Jimmy Bond - Dr. Noah". Barbara Bouchet played Moneypenny. Terence Cooper played "Cooper, James Bond - 007". Daliah Lavi played "The Detainer - 007".

Peter Sellers played "Evelyn Tremble, James Bond - 007". Ursula Andress played "Vesper Lynd - 007". Jacqueline Bisset played Miss Goodthighs. Orson Welles played Le Chiffre.

Joanna Pettet played Mata Bond. George Raft played himself. Jean-Paul Belmondo played "French Legionnaire". Geoffrey Bayldon played Q.

An uncredited Peter O'Toole played Piper. An uncredited Burt Kwouk played "Chinese General". An uncredited Caroline Munro played "Guard Girl". An uncredited David Prowse played Frankenstein's Creature.

Val Guest directed "scenes with Woody Allen and additional scenes with David Niven." Ken Hughes directed the "Berlin scenes." Joseph McGrath directed "scenes with Peter Sellers, Orson Welles and Ursula Andress." Robert Parrish directed "scenes with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles." An uncredited Richard Talmadge directed the "Casino Royale finale."

#

A third version is scheduled for stateside release on November 17, 2006.

Daniel Craig played James Bond. Judi Dench reprised her role of M. Eva Green played Vesper Lynd. Mads Mikkelsen played Le Chiffre. Jeffrey Wright played Felix Leiter. Giancarlo Giannini played René Mathis. Vlastina Svátková played a "Waitress".
 


Martin Campbell, who directed GoldenEye, is set to direct.

Flesh & Blood: Guilty As Sin, edited by Max Allan Collins & Jeff Gelb

(pb; 2003: story anthology)

Overall review:

Excellent third entry in the Flesh & Blood anthology series, whose titles include Flesh & Blood and Flesh & Blood: Dark Desires.

Reviews, story by story:

Low Tide” – Dick Lochte: Twisty tale about bank robbers, a bank teller and a disgraced security guard. Solid, with an anything-could-happen ending.

Back O’ Town Blues” – David Fulmer: Named after a Louis Armstrong song that’s playing on the juke at the beginning of the story... Predictable offering, to those familiar with the genre. Fun read, with some great lines (“Imagine a prime Tuesday Weld on crank”).

Dalliance At Sunnydale” – Barbara Collins: Marital ennui, murder and betrayal in a nursing home. Collins’s tale is a fresh take on that familiar noir set-up, with a fitting, blackly humorous finish. Highly enjoyable, this.

The Iberville Mistress” – O’Neil DeNoux: A PI, Lucien Caye, finds himself in the middle of an intricate divorce-blackmail case, with unexpected results. Gleefully steamy, sleazy story, this.

Service” – Gary Lovisi: Original, entertaining tale about an accountant who becomes enthralled with an evil-minded 300-pound stripper named Clarise, and her criminal intentions. Given the story’s set-up, the ending’s disappointing at best. Still worth reading, though.

The Last Reel” – Gary R. Bush: A porn writer-director with a love of noir films (particularly Out of the Past and Double Indemnity) tries to make an erotic noir film to rival the aforementioned classics. But will it cost him his life? Structurally modeled after Double Indemnity, this is easily one of the best tales in this collection. A memorable, loving homage to the noir genre.

A Delicate Mission” – Michael Collins & Gayle Lynds: Solid tale about two CIA agents who get sexually involved with the ‘targets’ of their related mission. Long – perhaps too long – on sex, short on plot, it’s one of the lesser stories in this collection, reminiscent of something put out by a fledgling smut writer.

Perfection” – Jeff Gelb: Predictable, given the narrow focus of the prose, tale about two gym sluts – one of whom may or may not be a serial killer. Mercifully brief, this.

Walking To Paris” – Rex Miller: Breezy, amusing fluff about a stewardess named Britney who cheerfully gets revenge on her cheating husband. Not memorable, but fun.

Feel The Pain” – Michael Bracken: One of my favorite tales in this collection. A bounty hunter rescues an abused rich bitch from her husband, only to wind up a suspect in a murder case. Lots of twists and cynical turns, with a droll sense of humor. Excellent.

Sex Crimes” – Michael Garrett: Perverse, clever tale with a wicked, unexpected twist at the end. One of the best stories in this collection.

Money-Back Guarantee” – Marthayn Pelegrimas & Robert J. Randisi: Well-written tale about two bar buddies and sexual fidelity. The end-line, a double- or triple-entendre, is priceless, enviable.

A Hatful Of Ralph” – Loren D. Estleman: Ralph Poteet, a perennial f**k-up, finds himself in a dangerous, possibly fatal, situation after discovering the dead body of the store manager who just fired him. Hilarious in a Billy Bob Thornton-Bad Santa way, this sports inspired crudity and a fitting finish. Superb, this.

Bank Job” – Thomas S. Roche: Normally lesbian sex scenes bore me. However, in this Resevoir Dogs-esque story, where two lesbian bank robbers torture and rape a cop, Roche’s go-for-broke prose is ably intermingled with some risibly nasty dialogue, and a furthering of plot. Again, one of the best entries in this collection.

The Windsor Ballet” – Deborah Morgan: Fast-moving piece about a woman who disappears at a strip club-bachelorette party. Engaging characters and plot, satisfying and funny (if melancholy) finish.

Good Career Moves” – Robert S. Levinson: A studio gofer gets caught up in a web of deceit involving an aspiring pop singer, a bastard of a record producer (who’s possibly been murdered) and other L.A. types. Some of its predictable, but it’s well-written, with characters that ring true, and has a strong ambiguous ending.

Dicks Are Blind” – James L. Traylor: So-so story about a PI who’s hired to investigate a woman who might be cheating on his client. Solid, but blah.

Lie Beside Me” – Max Allan Collins & Matthew V. Clemens: A bored former spy and his Texas wife encounter a perverse, sexually-charged situation, born of the spy’s dangerous past. Amusing, action-oriented tale.

Mirror, Mirror” – Catherine Dain: A woman stares at herself in the mirror of a strange bedroom, wondering how she got there... Odd, didn’t-quite-grab-me tale, with some admirably nasty elements.

A Dick And Jane Story” – Jack Kelly: Aimless piece about a missing dog, and the titular odd neighbors. Booooring.

The Raiders” – Gary Phillips: Too-convoluted tale about a blackmailed congresswoman and the PI helping her. Otherwise, well-written.

The Daffodil” – Annette Meyers & Martin Meyers: Set in New York, this tale about a murdered gangster sports a lot of colorful, distinctive characters. Good read!

Nighthawks” – John Lutz: The title, inspired by the famous Edward Hopper painting (which is shown in the story) is also the name of the bar where Amy meets Jerry, who, it seems, may be the ideal lover for her. Great story, with plenty of atmosphere (loneliness is a theme) and stunning (if sad) finish. One of the best entries in this collection.

<em>Star Wars: Phasma</em> by <a href="http://www.whimsydark.com/">Delilah S. Dawson</a>

(hb; 2017: loosely linked prequel to the 2015 film Star Wars -- Episode VII: The Force Awakens ) From the back cover " Discover ...