fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDeath’s Excellent Vacation Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner (editors)Death’s Excellent Vacation by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner (eds)

Even paranormal creatures need to get away from it all sometimes. In Death’s Excellent Vacation, editors Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner present a collection of thirteen stories tied together by the theme of “vacation.”

The “headliners,” as evidenced by whose names are in big type above the title, are Harris, Katie MacAlister, and Jeaniene Frost. Each of these three authors contributes a vignette from one of her popular series: Sookie Stackhouse, Aisling Grey: Guardian, and Night Huntress respectively. These stories will be enjoyable to readers who have been following these series. Case in point: I’ve read some of Harris’s work and some of Frost’s, and I had fun with “Two Blondes” and “One for the Money” (though I think Eric is being a bit of a jerk in the former). I haven’t yet read any of MacAlister’s books, however, “The Perils of Effrijim” left me lost. Her established fans will probably have better luck with it. If you only read the stories that are series installments, though, you’re missing out. Some of the best pieces in the collection are standalones.

My favorite is Lilith Saintcrow’s “The Heart is Always Right.” I hadn’t read any Saintcrow before — and after this, I plan to remedy that right away. She builds a complex mythology surrounding gargoyles, and creates an endearing character in one lonely gargoyle who’s secretly in love with the beautiful cashier at his local “Evil-Mart.” He faces an impossible choice between betraying this woman and giving up his fondest dream. Saintcrow paints the gargoyle’s emotions in subtle little touches. (That’s not the garlic making your eyes water, buddy.)

I was pleasantly surprised by L.A. Banks’s contribution, “Seeing Is Believing,” a werewolf story set in New Orleans. I’ve had trouble getting into Banks’s writing before. Her novel Minion is extremely “talky” and filled with written dialect that can be distracting in print. These are, ironically, the same elements that make “Seeing Is Believing” so engaging and dynamic on audio. The story really comes to life when read aloud. I think I may try the Vampire Huntress books again — this time on CD. Another fun story is “Pirate Dave’s Haunted Amusement Park.” Toni L.P. Kelner finishes out the anthology with this cute entry, which features a fun twist on lycanthropy and a setting I really wish were real so I could go there.

Honorable mentions go to Christopher Golden’s and Sarah Smith’s stories. Golden’s “Thin Walls” is incredibly creepy, an erotic horror story. Smith’s “The Boys Go Fishing” intrigued me more with its mythology than with its plot. It concerns a retired, disillusioned superhero who’s been around longer than anyone suspects. Smith subtly explores the question of how a person with “superhero” powers might have been seen in a time when “superhero” stories didn’t exist yet. Then, the ending piqued my curiosity and had me looking up Chinese mythical figures on the Internet.

Unlike some other collections of its kind, Death’s Excellent Vacation features a wide range of styles. Some of the stories are of the “ass-kicking urban fantasy” type, while others utilize a more contemplative tone and pace and/or take place in rustic settings. This is in contrast to, for example, Strange Brew, edited by P.N. Elrod, which features ass-kicking almost exclusively. This diversity of style is both a positive and a negative for Death’s Excellent Vacation. It means more variety from one story to the next. It also means that any one particular reader is less likely to enjoy every single story. Depending on your personal tastes, you’ll probably like some of these stories and dislike others.

I listened to the audiobook version of Death’s Excellent Vacation produced by Brilliance Audio. The stories with female protagonists are read by Amanda Ronconi; the stories with male leads are voiced by Christopher Lane. Ronconi has a perky, slightly nasal voice that gives a breezy chick-lit feel to the pieces she reads. She’s particularly good in “Two Blondes” and “Seeing Is Believing.” Christopher Lane has a smooth, soothing voice that conveys a combination of world-weariness and good humor; he’s great at characters who are curmudgeonly but still able to laugh about the absurdity of it all. Both actors are skilled at distinguishing characters from one another and from the narrative voice by use of accents and vocal mannerisms. Overall, I was really pleased with the recording. The audio version of Death’s Excellent Vacation would be a good book to bring along on your own vacation and listen to in the car or on the beach.

Death’s Excellent Vacation — (2010) Publisher: It really can be an endless summer — if you’re immortal. Though a vampire would be ill-advised to take a cruise to Bermuda, the possibilities for getting away from it all — and maybe snacking on some unsuspecting tourist — are many… Sookie Stackhouse and her vampire friend Pam take a weekend getaway to Mississippi in #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris’s “Two Blondes.” And when they end up in a shady gentleman’s club, to escape in one piece they need to do something that wasn’t on their itinerary — something involving a stage, a pole, and very little clothing. New York Times bestselling author Katie MacAlister’s “The Perils of Effrijim” follows a demon whose vacation in Paris is disrupted when he’s banished to another plane, thus kicking off a crazy dimension-hopping road trip across Europe. Protecting an heiress from supernatural hit men isn’t Cat and Bones’s idea of a relaxing vacation in New York Times bestselling author Jeaniene Frost’s “One for the Money,” but it could get worse. And it does — when Cat’s mother shows up. Editors Harris and Kelner bring together a stellar collection of tour guides who offer vacations frightening, funny, and touching — for the fanged, the furry, the demonic, and the grotesque.


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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