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Thursday, February 9, 2017

What I'm Reading: Black Feathers [with bonus commentary/permission on why you don't have to read any book from cover to cover]

Here is my first Booklist review of 2017. As noted previously, I post my draft review and then include more appeal and readalike information. For the official review, you must go to the specific issue of Booklist.

Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales.

Datlow, Ellen (editor).

Feb. 2017. 320p. Pegasus, hardcover, $25.95 (9781681773216)
First published February 3, 2017 (Booklist Online).

There is a reason "The Birds" is a movie whose mere mention can still bring chills to people more than 50 years after its release, and with her newest collection, Datlow preys off this uncomfortable relationship we have with birds. Birds taunt us, stalk us, and gather in flocks to threaten us, they have been invoked to foretell the future, and most importantly, they can take flight and for that we will be forever envious. This ominous collection uses all of that preexisting unease as ammunition to project its creepy atmosphere on to you from its first page. But when you dive in, the breadth of these stories is noticeably more varied than in other horror collections. The range in gore is to be expected, but the vastly different ways the terror presents itself, and the distinct storytelling styles and pacing more accurately reflect how deep seated and pervasive our fear of avians truly is. This volume is enhanced by the fact that Datlow, an acclaimed editor, is able to attract big name authors like Joyce Carol Oates and Seanan McGuire as well as current up and comers like Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones. However, it is in the lesser known authors where readers will find surprising gems, like in the final story, "The Crow Palace" by Priya Sharma, an emotional tale of a dysfunctional family, that drips with dread as it gleefully plays your mind. Many will not enjoy every story, but this is a volume you need to have to satisfy both dark fantasy and horror readers. Just be prepared to look over your shoulder the next time you head outside.

Further Appeal: This is not a collection most people will read cover to cover, unless they enjoy the scary birds trope-- which some do.

The stories are all solid, but they really do vary in the terror level, gore, and even writing styles. However, this is exactly why this is a great collection for your library. You need to buy it anyway because there are way too many uber popular authors included. Their fans will demand it. But do also work on hand selling this to readers as a collection they should skip around in.

Overall speculative fiction short story collections tend not to circulate as well as literary collections. I am not sure why except for the fact that these collections don't get reviewed in the major press so patrons don't seek them out. This is where our job comes in. We need to feature solid collections like this one to our patrons. There are wonderful stories that a lot of people would enjoy, if they only knew the collection existed.

People think that if they have a book in front of them they must read it from cover to cover...every single word. Guess what? They don't. No one does. Leisure reading has no rules. While you are alone with the book there is no one there forcing you to do anything.

One of the best things we can do to help our readers find enjoyable tales is to hand them collections and tell them it is okay to skip around. Try a few by authors you know and like or some by ones you have meant to read but never got around to. Heck, even try an author you have never heard of. What's the worst that can happen? You don't like it. You don't like it so much you stop reading it. This is not a tragedy.

But the best thing that can happen is that they find a new author that they love. That is worth it in my eyes. Every time. That chance that I could find a treasure is why I love collections.

So get out there and suggest collections. Patrons won't seek them out on their own. You can make a difference here. Why not start with this one? Feel free to use my review to help put this terrific collection into readers' hands.

Three Words That Describe This Book: primal fear, wide range, unease

Readalikes: As I mentioned above, this collection is extremely varied, but if someone likes a specific story you should send them to the longer works by those authors.

But as I also mentioned, scary birds are a thing. Here are some other solid horror novels that prominently feature birds:

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