CarniePunk (Hell on Earth) – Multi-Author Anthology

CarniePunkRachel Caine • Jennifer Estep • Kevin Hearne • Seanan McGuire • Rob Thurman • Delilah S. Dawson • Kelly Gay • Mark Henry • Hillary Jacques • Jackie Kessler • Kelly Meding • Allison Pang •  Nicole Peeler • Jaye Wells

A star-studded urban fantasy anthology featuring bestselling authors Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and Kevin Hearne, whose stories explore the creepy, mysterious, and, yes, sometimes magical world of traveling carnivals.

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed,Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic.

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Well, this is going to be interesting to review. So many authors, so many interesting stories and the only common thread between them is a carnival… of sorts. Not the same carnival, because each story takes place in totally different worlds. Some post-apocolyptic, some present, some dream – or nightmare – depending on your view. I’ll try to review each one as I read them. So, here we go….

Painted Love by Rob Thurman 

Doodle was the main character in Painted Love. He was a traveler and learned from whoever he was with at the time. During this story he was traveling with Bartholemew and they spent their time at a traveling carnival. Doodle rarely interfered or got in the middle of things while he observed what was going on around him, but something about the girls that Bart was targeting on this trip pushed Doodle to abandon the norm.

This was the first time I had read anything by Rob Thurman. I loved the twists and turns in Painted Love and his writing style totally sucked me into the story. I think I will be searching out more books by this author.

The Three Lives of Lydia (A Blud Short Story) by Delilah S. Dawson

Another new author to me… I can see a pattern here. This book is not only going to be entertaining, it’s also going to add to my ever growing TBR list. *sigh*

Lydia was an interesting character and even with the shortness of this story I was totally drawn in by her. She was edgy and sweet at the same time and I absolutely loved Charlie. A carnival with a steampunk twist and some interesting paranormals. I liked it. This was my first trip to Sang, but it definitely won’t be my last. The Blud series is now on my reading radar.

The Sweeter the Juice by Mark Henry

Ok, it’s been a while since I’ve read a full on zombie book. I know that there is a huge fan base for zombie books. I respect that and even I have my favorites. This kind of zombie read is not one of them though. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. It also doesn’t mean that I wasn’t cringing most of the time either. *shivers*

See, the thing about reading is that you can’t shut your eyes when it gets to the gross parts, and The Sweeter the Juice was full of gross parts. The fact that this was the norm and the characters basically took a lot of those moments as just another day’s occurrence added to the cringe factor for me. I don’t think I could have gotten through an entire novel in the world that Mark Henry created, but this short story was a perfect dose, for me anyway. What can I say? I’m a wimp 😉

The Werewife by Jaye Wells

I’m not sure why, but this one reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode. That’s not a bad thing either. I think it was the mind games, the cynical attitude of some characters, the pure evil of others and the true personality reveal of one character in particular. I could just see this played out in black and white and the swirling images and Twilight Zone theme playing in the background. It was one of those macabre reads that proves that nothing is ever quite what it seems.

The Cold Girl by Rachel Caine

The main character, Kiley, tugged at my heart in this one. It was the closest to a YA read so far in this collection, but because of some of the violence it probably falls closer to the New Adult genre. Regardless, Rachel Caine’s writing style that I’ve fallen in love with in The Morganville series was evident. Don’t expect her typical vampires in this one though. There are some interesting twists, some unlikely heroes and some really tense moments.

A Duet with Darkness (An Abby Sinclair Short Story) by Allison Pang

Okay, this author and series just landed on my TBR list. I need more Abby Sinclair, sooner rather than later. The danger of this anthology is that some of the short stories are part of a series. I’ve skipped a few as I’ve read because they are parts of series that I am currently reading and I need to catch up in those series in order to read these shorts in the order suggested. I’m not sure where A Duet with Darkness falls in the Abby Sinclair series, but I can’t wait to find out. Just a warning, I also didn’t expect any of these short stories to end in a cliff hanger. Yikes!

Recession of the Divine by Hillary Jacques

This one was confusing… I still liked it, but I was a little lost. I think I might have caught up with what was going on by the end, which may have been the author’s intention… yeah, we’ll just go with that. 😉 I get the sneaky suspicion that this may be part of a series, but I haven’t been able to track down anything else by the author. Enough happened in this short glimpse into a world of Gods and Goddesses that it has peaked my curiosity though.

Freak House (A Strays Short Story) by Kelly Meding

This has turned out to be one of my favorites. I so hope that this is the beginning of great things to come. It is the perfect set up for a series, which it very well may be. Kelly Meding has sparked my interest and anything else by her will be on my radar. The story and voice of the main character, Shiloh, kind of reminded me of Gin Blanco. Trust me, that’s a good thing. A strong female who’s not afraid to defend the people she cares about and only wants to use her powers for good. What’s not to love?

The Inside Man (A Jane True Short Story) by Nicole Peeler

Clowns. *shivers* Actually only one clown, but still. *shivers some more* I’m not a huge fan of clowns, but they don’t freak me out either. After reading this short story I will be avoiding them for a while. On the plus side though, I have found a new series to check out. I loved the characters. They were smart and witty and the paranormal aspects perked my interest.

A Chance in Hell by Jackie Kessler

Demons… always a scary concept. Jezebel was evidently a demon (a succubus, actually) turned human, which means she had a soul. Which means that there were other demons on the loose who wanted to steal it. An even more scary concept. Guess who was running the carnival in this short story? Her roommate’s attempt to help her adapt to being a human took a very wrong turn when she decided to take her to Pogo Brothers Traveling Show.

Jezebel is from Jackie Kessler’s Hell on Earth series and it is now another series that I need to check out. My TBR pile is definitely not dwindling. LOL!

Hell’s Menagerie (A Charlie Madigan Short Story) by Kelly Gay

A carnival in Hell that’s main attraction were captured animals thrown together with other supernatural creatures and beings in fights to the death? Sure, why not? For those of you familiar with the Charlie Madigan series, (which I am not) Charlie wasn’t in this short story. Hell’s Menagerie had Rex, Emma and her Hellhoud Brim on a rescue mission that turned out to be anything but routine. Needless to say, things got intense. The only thing better in a good UF than a kick-a** woman is a kick-a** teenage girl, just sayn’ 😉

Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea by Seanan McGuire

And so the last story in CarniePunk is kind of bittersweet. I liked it though. The writing was descriptive and the sense of family with this group of Carnies was the main focus. For as short as it was, the author managed to get me emotionally attached to these characters. If this one would have been any longer there would have definitely been tears. *sigh*

There are two stories from the anthology that are missing from this review. The Demon Barker of Wheat Street (An Iron Druid Chronicles Short Story) by Kevin Hearne and Parlor Tricks (An Elemental Assassin Short Story) by Jennifer Estep. These are from series that I am currently reading and I haven’t quite caught up to where they fall in the reading order. I’ll be reviewing them separately and since I’m almost caught up, it shouldn’t be long.

This collection of short stories obviously turned into a set of teasers designed to hook me into tracking down the authors and adding their books/series to my already too huge TBR pile. However, being the reading addict that I am, that is not necessarily a complaint. *sigh* Just a warning though, even though there are some YA authors in the list, there are some definite adult themes in most of these short stories.

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