Rating: 3.5 out of 5
I enjoyed reading Graveyard Smash: Women of Horror Anthology Volume 2, but thought volume one, Under Her Black Wings, was a little bit better. Once again, I have to knock them just a little for having the foreword of an all-women-authors book be written by a guy; it gives the impression that the women can’t stand on their own and need a man to speak for them.
R.A. Busby’s “Holes” is a great tale. Kathryn has trypophobia, a fear of holes. She’s living in the middle of a pandemic, and her paranoia spirals in bad directions. A favorite of mine is J.A.W. McCarthy’s “Until There’s Nothing Left,” in which a girl has a bizarre ability to raise people from the dead–but it doesn’t always end well. She’s determined to bring her sister back. This story is so very poignant. Sonora Taylor’s “The Clockmaker” is another favorite. Nathaniel, an unremarkable man who makes remarkable clocks, is commissioned to make one out of bone. But the man who hired him wants more, always more. Another favorite is “Templo Mayor,” by V. Castro. When going on a tour of a very old temple, it’s good to have other people on the tour with you.
Catherine McCarthy’s “Two’s Company, Three’s a Shroud,” was fun but didn’t wow me. A town is running out of room in the cemetery, and they decide to start stacking coffins. This doesn’t sit well with the dead. Another story with a sense of humor is Yolanda Sfetsos’s “Love You To Death.” It takes place in the underworld, in a bar run by Hades and Persephone. It’s silly, and I didn’t like the depiction of Persephone, but it has a couple of good characters. Another fun story, Janine Pipe’s “The Invitation,” is an enjoyable story about Amber, who’s going to go to a party at the cemetery called “Graveyard Smash.” She’s not exactly going for an evening of fun, however–and her mother sends her texts reminding her to go armed!
Dona Fox’s “Waiting at the Dance” involves a widow, Alisha, whose daughter Jenny wants her to get back to dating. When Alisha goes dancing at something called “the widow’s dance,” things get a little bit strange. In Cassidy Frost’s “The Crumbling Grave,” Emilia asks homeless guy Dane for help regarding her abusive boyfriend. I didn’t entirely buy into some of the details of the ending, but it was an intriguing story. Michelle Renee Lane’s “Cicada Song” has Anna hearing voices that tell her to kill her annoying sister Sadie (“…killing her seemed a bit extreme”). I like where this one went.
Demi-Louise Blackburn’s “Smash and Grab” introduces us to two office workers who decide to start grave-robbing for extra cash. One of them is desperate for the money and drags the other along. It’s a bit predictable, but a nifty premise. Carmen Baca’s “The Child” involves three generations of women who have inherited magical “recipes” from their Aztec ancestors. Unfortunately, Atlaclamani’s ability with said recipes appears to outreach her moral growth. This story didn’t feel like it had a definitive ending. Another grave-robbing story is Ellie Douglas’s “Rewake.” Emma and Carl are cousins who are robbing graves to satisfy some guy they’re working for. Emma has a bizarre experience with a corpse and starts to change. The bad stuff happens right away, before we can come to care about the characters at all. The dialogue is very awkward. And Emma’s cousin notices things like the fact that her breasts have changed size without thinking much about it. It also doesn’t really have an ending.
I didn’t think that Beverly Lee’s “The Roll of the Dice” felt like horror, at least to me. It involves a man who’s seen an “imaginary friend” with no mouth since he was a child. The ending is strange, but I didn’t get much out of it. Tracy Fahey’s “Graveyard of the Lost” involves an archaeology student trying to find a grave that’s said to only be found when the tide goes out. This one was pretty good. Susan McCauley’s “The Snow Woman” introduces us to Eric, whose father is a professor of anthropology. He’s just had a 300-year-old mummy delivered to him. Legend has it that once set free, she’ll freeze the world. This was an interesting read; the characters were a little flimsy (eh, it happens in some short stories), but the events were great.
I wanted to like Ksenia Murray’s “Night of the Djinn” more than I did. Some goth kids are hanging out in a cemetery and decide to sacrifice a cat. One of the kids, Jade, refuses to let them harm the cat. Said cat happens to be temporarily inhabited by a Djinn, who decides to have some fun with the kids. It’s all very quick, without much variation in the pacing, and the Djinn gets the best of the kids simply by declaring a deadly “price” for each wish he grants. I feel like this could have been more than it was.
Christy Aldridge’s “Don’t Scream (You’ll Wake the Dead)” introduces us to teenager Mike, who gets a job at a cemetery working for an undertaker. The undertaker calmly tells him that the dead sometimes walk, and that he should never scream, because that will get their attention. The rest is obvious. Dawn DeBraal’s “Thirty Questions” has Tawny’s dead cousin Cheryl come back to help her figure out who killed her in a hit-and-run. She never actually saw the person, but Tawny can ask 30 questions to help her figure out who it might have been. The ending was a bit too quick, and Cheryl’s dialogue was very stilted, and not in a “this is a corpse/ghost/whatever” kind of way.
Paula R.C. Readman’s “The Chimes At Midnight” sees Eleanor come back from the dead, only to find out that her murderous husband has taken yet another wife. Can the two of them work together to save the new wife’s life? The prose and dialogue are a little purple, but it’s basically a good story. Lydia Prime’s “South Dakota” is fascinating, particularly given the implications of the events on the world-building. I would love to know more about this place in which young Dakota meets a friend who looks exactly like her, but is trapped beneath the ice of a lake. She becomes determined to free this copy of herself. I also enjoyed Ally Peirse’s “Atmosphere,” except for one detail. Young reporter Vicky talks brewery cleaner Rob into taking her along on his job, since his Uncle Dave is out like a light. He has her doing Uncle Dave’s part, which is vital to his safety, when she has no training or experience in that. Things (obviously) go wrong in that area; it was really hard to imagine that he would have made that decision. The interesting part is what happens to them after that, and why.
Overall this anthology is worth reading, even if it isn’t perfect. But that often happens with anthologies–not all stories will match any given reader’s preferences.
Content note for some gore, cannibalism.