Charlaine Harris & Toni L.P. Kelner, editors,
Many Bloody Returns
(Ace, 2009)

Many Bloody Returns gives us a fun take on birthdays and vampires and, in some cases, vampire birthdays. As with most short-story collections, the quality of the stories is a bit of a mixed bag, but all in all, I found most of contributions entertaining. In fact, as anthologies go, the ratio of good stories to mediocre is higher than usual.

Charlaine Harris's "Dracula Night" is a fun romp through the world of Sookie Stackhouse. In a twisted retelling of the "Great Pumpkin" story, Eric sits in his own "pumpkin patch" -- Fangtasia -- awaiting the arrival of Vlad the Impaler on Halloween. Humorous, with just the right touch of snark to satisfy readers of the series.

"The Mournful Cry of Owls" by Christopher Golden is dark, brooding and melancholy. While I'm not certain it qualifies as a "vampire" story per se, I found the atmosphere haunting.

Bill Crider's "I Was a Teenage Vampire" is just what it sounds like -- a nostalgic poke at all those teen movies of the '50s. Good, clean fun.

Jim Butcher's "It's My Birthday, Too" is set in Harry Dresden's world and focuses on Harry's relationship with his half-brother Thomas, a vampire of the White Court. Thomas is one of the most complicated, intriguing and ultimately tragic characters in the series and any insight into his character is appreciated. As a reader of the Dresden books, I had no trouble with the rules and boundaries of the world, although those not familiar with the series may not find the story as satisfying as Butcher fans will. Told with his usual panache, Butcher's story is one of the highlights of the book.

The world of vampire-detective Jack Fleming is 1930s Chicago populated by damsels in distress and hard-boiled detectives out to solve supernatural mysteries. P.N. Elrod's "Grave-Robbed" is a little like watching an old film noir movie -- there's something comforting in the black-and-white view of the world and in knowing that the bad guy will get his comeuppance in the end. Well done.

Morganville, Texas, is a very scary town to grow up in. And Eve Rosser has good reason to be scared: it's her 18th birthday and she has a decision to make: to sign or not to sign, that is the question. For fans of the Morganville Vampire series, Rachel Caine's "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life" is a wonderful slice of backstory told in first person from Eve's point of view. For those not familiar with the series, the subtleties will be lost, but I think the story will stand on its own.

Jeanne C. Stein's contribution, "The Witch & the Wicked," left me a bit cold. Too much like the plot of the movie All of Me but with none of the humor. Not to my taste.

At the beginning of "The Wish," author Carolyn Haines' treatment of the character is vague -- so much so that I mistook the female protagonist for a man. But once I got my bearings, I found the story fascinating -- a look at life and death, depression and mental illness, and taking control of the things that can be controlled. A tentative thumbs up, mostly because of the shaky opening.

Elaine Viets' "Vampire Hours" is an odd little story. On some levels, I really liked it. Viets paints a wonderful portrait of a woman on the verge of oblivion watching her life, her marriage and her hopes circle the drain. Katherine is offered a means of escape by her mysterious neighbor, the vampire Michael. While I really wanted to like this story, in the end it left me cold and unimpressed. The pacing seems off, almost like the author was penned in by page count or time constraints. Perhaps the story was just edited to death. Whatever the reason, the story didn't work for me.

One of the reasons I like short-story anthologies is because I can discover new authors without having to make a commitment to 350 pages or more. This collection offered more in the way of exciting authors I've never encountered than do most.

While I have never read any of Kelley Armstrong's works, if "Twilight" is a sample of the quality, I am intrigued enough to seek out more. Cassandra is a vampire who faces a moral dilemma when she must kill in order to maintain her life. While this sounds like hundreds of other "broody vamp" stories, Armstrong's take on the whole issue is fresh and interesting.

Tanya Huff is one of my new discoveries from this book. Her story "Blood Wrapped," set in the world of her Smoke books, is peopled with delightful characters doing interesting things. I will be seeking out more of Huff's books. I'm intrigued.

Another author I will be seeking out in larger doses is Tate Hallaway. Her "Fire & Ice & Linguini for Two" features the main characters from her series, which includes the books Tall, Dark, & Dead, Dead Sexy and Romancing the Dead. Sebastian and Garnet are stepping out to celebrate his birthday, but they keep running into what Sebastian calls his "birthday curse." A little fun, a little mystery, a little romance and an epic battle with a demon -- what more could a person want?

Finally, co-editor Toni L.P. Kelner is a mystery/romance author whose short story "How Stella Got Her Grave Back" is a delight from beginning to end. Part mystery, part romance, this genre-bending tale tells the story of the vamp Stella, who marks her birthday with a visit to her grave only to discover that there's somebody else buried there. The murdered Jane Doe now occupying her plot deserves to have the mystery surrounding her death solved, and Stella -- with the help of her vampire boyfriend Mark -- sets out to find her killer. Kelner's forte is crisp, breezy, believable dialogue. Although this is Kelner's first vampire story, she handles the genre of paranormal romance/fantasy with style and a wink.

All in all, Many Bloody Returns makes for good, fun summer reading. You won't find anything profound or earth-shattering in this volume, but you will be satisfied long after the last page is turned.

review by
Belinda Christ

6 February 2010

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