Review: “Tales for the Camp Fire,” ed. Loren Rhoads

Pros: Some good stories for a great cause
Cons: Not many of the stories pulled me in
Rating: 3 out of 5

I feel vaguely guilty not giving higher marks to a book that’s being sold to benefit charity. But the truth is, Tales for the Camp Fire: A Charity Anthology Benefitting Wildfire Relief didn’t hold my attention very well.

The book starts off with a brief summary of events surrounding the Camp Fire wildfire. It’s pretty horrible, and it’s easy to agree that it’s a worthy effort to donate to.

Some of the stories really were original and interesting. One of my favorites starts off the book, Nancy Etchemendy’s Cooking with Rodents. It’s pretty obviously some sort of apocalyptic setting, primarily seen in a line about the collapse of the domestic livestock industry. The narrator is clearly some sort of fancy chef, but she’s explaining how to judge the quality of a rat, how to source the best rats, how to obtain good breast milk when you can’t get other types of dairy, and my favorite part:

If pepper and nutmeg cannot be obtained, try a mixture of ground roaches and silverfish. They have a surprisingly tangy flavor.

Ben Monroe’s The Quarry piqued my interest. It’s set in the 80s, and a handful of kids ride their bikes to a quarry they’re forbidden to explore. You already know things will go horribly wrong, and the story delivers. My only niggly complaint is that the ending is so far out of left field it feels like a non sequitur. I would have liked a little more foreshadowing (not something I typically say).

I loved Gerry Griffiths’ The White Stuff. Two couples hole up in a solar-powered home in the desert for Christmas, only to wake up to a Christmas morning shock of snow on the ground! However, the power is out, the phones won’t work, and things are about to get scary. My only complaint here is that I never could figure out why the batteries for the phones and car were dead. There didn’t seem to be an explanation for that.

Editor Loren Rhoads wrote Still Life with Shattered Glass. I’m not sure how to describe this one without giving away the good details, so I’ll just say that Sherry’s relationship with Jacob is on the rocks, and still life photographer Lily gives Sherry an idea. I love being inside Sherry’s head as this story progresses.

Eric Esser’s Fable of the Box is fairly interesting. It involves a witch who has a box that can bring something (or someone) back to life for one day–although the results aren’t necessarily good ones. The witch has two children, and being children, of course they think of all the boundary cases one isn’t supposed to mess with, like bringing their dead dog back to life one day at a time, repeatedly.

I also liked L.S. Johnson’s Ada, Awake. It’s a bit of cosmic horror involving a recently widowed orphan trying to sell an artifact to make a bit of money to pay off her husband’s debts. E.M. Markoff’s Leaving the #9 is a wonderful ghost story with some excellent unexpected tidbits. Sean Patrick Hazlett’s Mukden, which takes place in Manchuria, tells a fascinating tale of someone who’s trying to collect information on Russian troop movements and ends up tangling with demons. Anthony DeRouen’s The Patron is a great little story about a fateful snowfall in South Lake Tahoe.

Roh Morgan’s Little Pink Flowers is a super-short story that nonetheless has that good horror impact. Jeff Seeman’s Road Kill is a great little scare involving a trucker trying to get home to the wife who might be leaving him, while encountering a very scary presence on the radio. G.O. Clark’s The Twins is a quirky story of the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. Dana Fredsti’s You’ll Never Be Lunch in this Town Again is another quirky zombie apocalypse story, told through the filming of a movie.

Some of the stories didn’t deliver well on the horror aspect. Erika Mailman’s Seven Seconds, because it’s presented as memories from past lives, didn’t feel immediate enough to convey the horror. Several stories seemed to leave off too early, leaving me feeling unsatisfied, such as Hueler’s River Twice, which was otherwise an interesting story of a Japanese river demon, or kappa. I definitely wanted more closure on Sumiko Saulson’s Unheard Music in the Dank Underground, but the details of the story also made it too silly. Crystal M. Romero’s The Relic is, in general, good, but it’s super-short and all implication, so it never built up any emotion in me. Chad Schimke’s Vivified just felt too familiar, and I couldn’t get into the main character.

Even many of the stories I liked just didn’t have that much impact on me. They didn’t stick with me the way I hope for from good horror. This book was still decent, though, and makes for a bit of light reading.

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