Monday, August 15, 2011

Review of Home Improvement: Undead Edition

I love short stories and novellas by favorite authors, but I have mixed feelings about anthologies featuring short stories. While I have few qualms about buying an anthology with four novellas in it for $7.99, I have to think long and hard about short story anthologies, because typically they’re priced at trade paperback prices, and I’m only interested in a couple of the stories. Home Improvement: Undead Edition features short stories by mystery and urban fantasy authors, all focused on some aspect of home renovation, and the stories range from excellent to merely ho-hum. Because it includes stories by some of my favorite authors I was really looking forward to its release, but it’s a hardcover book, which means I went into sticker shock when I saw the price. If you’re only interested in a few of the stories, I’m not sure the $26.99 price for hardcover or even $12.99 for the Kindle version will be worth it to you. For me the Patricia Briggs, Melissa Marr, and Seanan McGuire stories were definite highlights of the collection and more than made the purchase worth the price.  
“If I Had a Hammer” by Charlaine Harris This is a new Sookie Stackhouse story, and while I’m not a huge Sookie fan, the story was enjoyable and can be read without your having read any of the books in the series. Sookie’s helping friends Tara and JB renovate their house to accommodate their twins when a grisly discovery in the walls creates an oppressive atmosphere in their home. A cute story, but no Eric or Alcides present for you TrueBlood fans.
“Wizard Home Security” by Victor Gischler I felt this story was a bit ho-hum. Broahm is a wizard whose home has been broken into. He hires a young mage to create a security system for him, but just when Broahm gets lazy about activating it at night, another burglar makes an appearance with disastrous results for Broahm. I liked the twist at the end, but there was an abrupt jump to the ending that was a bit disconcerting for me.
“Gray” by Patricia Briggs I pretty much love anything Ms. Briggs writes, and this story was no exception. Set in her Mercy Thompson world, vampire Elyna purchases the condo she lived in years ago despite its reputation for being haunted. When she begins renovations the ghost offers suggestions for improvement, and Elyna starts to enjoy life again in a way she hasn’t since her violent change to vampire. Unfortunately she manages to attract attention from the powerful Chicago vampire seethe, and her new home is threatened. This is a sweet love story and one of the highlights of the collection.
“Squatters’ Rights” by Rochelle Krich This story was downright creepy, and if you love horror, you will definitely enjoy how Ms. Krich builds the tension between the newly married couple who’ve just purchased a fixer-upper. Learning that the couple who lived in the house before them died in a violent murder-suicide doesn’t deter Eve and Joe one bit, but they start to turn on each other as soon as the home improvements begin. Horror is my least favorite genre, and I was so creeped out after reading this I had to put the book down and come back to it later, which says to me it’s a great horror story.
In “Blood on the Walls” by Heather Graham Montville DeFeo finds himself forced to clean pig’s blood off his family tomb when local wannabe cult leader Austin Cramer holds his fake satanic rituals at the tomb. Private Investigaor DeFeo finds himself helping the young Cramer when someone begins viciously ripping apart members of the cult. The connection to home improvement is a bit tenuous with this story, but I enjoyed it none the less. It’s well-written and I liked the tidy ending.
As in Rochelle Krich’s story, “The Mansion of Imperatives” by James Grady  is a horror story of a house under renovation that turns on those living within its walls. While the concept is good, the execution was exceedingly painful, and I consider this the worst story in the collection. The language was choppy and awkward, and the beginning reads like a list of characters and attributes, rather than a developed story.
“The Strength Inside” by Melissa Marr Anyone who’s ever had to deal with an unfriendly Homeowners Association will get a kick out of how Chastity and Alison use the “old ways” to protect their new home. They’re Bori, and while they look human, they most assuredly are not. They have a nest of young, feral siblings to protect, but Justine, the snooty head of the HOA, wants to prevent them from building a fence that would allow their siblings to hunt and play freely. Big mistake, Justine. I loved this story, and Melissa Marr is swiftly becoming a must-read for me.
Woolsley’s Kitchen Nightmare” by E. E. Knight Chef Sean Woolsley runs elite translife eateries around the world, and he’s been asked to consult on a restaurant in Wisconsin. The owner has the execrable taste to have zombies working in the kitchen along with outdated d├ęcor in the dining room. Woolsley devises a clever solution when the day’s special manages to escape. I enjoyed the story, but it wasn’t one of my favorites.
“Through This House” by Seanan McGuire McGuire returns to the world of her October (Toby) Daye series in this short story. You will definitely enjoy the story more if you’ve read some of the books in the series, although you can follow along easily if you have not. The Queen granted Toby the title of Countess of Goldengreen, and Toby’s having trouble entering the faerie knowe. Once she and her small band of friends manage to get inside, they’re attacked by the knowe’s current residents. Despite the absence of my favorite, hottie Cait Sidhe king Tybalt, the story is a delight and a great example of McGuire’s style. Definitely recommend this one!
“The Path” by S. J. Rozan This was a pleasant surprise. I had never read any of S.J. Rozan’s work before, but this story is a charmer. The ghost of dead monk Tuo Mo cannot pass on until the head of a Buddha statue is returned to its original site in a cave in China. In life Tuo Mo was painfully shy, and he must overcome his bashfulness in the afterlife to insure that the statue is restored. His lighthearted encounter with a brash, stubborn ghost in New York City is a moment of humor not found in many of the other stories in the collection.
“Rick the Brave” by Stacia Kane is set in the world of Kane’s Downside series. Unlike the novels in the series, this story is told from the viewpoint of a “normal” – Rick – rather than that of Chess, the heroine of the series. Rick takes a job in dangerous Downside so he can earn some money after his girlfriend dumps him, but when he and the sketchy looking crew begin renovations they discover the house is haunted.  Ghosts can do some serious damage to the living, and Chess arrives in the nick of time to ward off the scaries. Definitely another plus in the collection, although if you haven’t read the series, I’m not sure you would get the best sense of who Chess really is as a character.
“Full-Scale Demolition” by Suzanne McLeod is set in the universe and it’s a fun one! Sidhe fae Genny Taylor is busy rounding up pixies in Trafalgar Square when she’s sent on another job doing the same at a private residence. Genny soon realizes that this so-called routine job is a set up when the swimming pool she’s supposed to rid of pixies resembles an ocean complete with waves. I’m new to the world, but this story definitely has me interested in checking out more of the series.
“It’s All in the Rendering” by Simon R. Green This is an odd story about a House that straddles the border between reality and fantasy. The House provides sanctuary from both worlds, but when visitors show up unannounced to conduct inspections, the House’s future is threatened. There wasn’t anything wrong with this story per se; it just didn’t keep my interest as well as some of the others and felt like it needed a bit more development.
“In Brightest Day” by Toni L. P. Kelner This was a clever story featuring Dodie Kilburn, houngan. She raises revenants to complete important tasks after their deaths, and her job takes a strange turn when the architect Gottfried she’s revived dies yet again. Her refusal to wear all black and dress like a stereotype, plus her tendency to tell bad jokes about the dead get her in trouble with her professional organization, but when Gottfried’s killed off a third time, she has to figure out who killed him so she doesn’t lose her place in the houngan community. The resolution to her problems was hilarious, and I have to confess I enjoyed her really bad puns.


  1. Wow, thanks for this very thorough review, Rebecca! I love Melissa Marr and highly recommend her Wicked Lovely series if you haven't read it yet.

    Thanks for visiting my blog today!

  2. I'm not sure why I'm unknown - sorry. Thought I'd leave my name - Robin

  3. I'll have to check the series out! I loved her book Graveminder!