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Is That A Wand Under Your Hat, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Supernatural short stories for a shivery Samhain.

Is That A Wand Under Your Hat, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

BOOK REPORT for Under My Hat: Tales From The Cauldron, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Cover Story: And The U.S. Gets Screwed Again
The Best: "A Handful of Ashes", "Barrio Girls"
The Worst: "Felidis"
The Weird: "Payment Due", "The Education of a Witch"
Bonus Factors: Hogwarts, Dogs, Folklore
Anti-Bonus Factors: Cat People, Weirdy-Beardy Wiccans
Break Glass In Case Of: Halloween! Also, TEABS, Ennui, Doctors' Appointments

Cover Story: And The U.S. Gets Screwed Again

Once again, the U.S. version sucks, and the U.K. version rules. WHY? Are we really that lowbrow? Is that what publishers think of U.S. audiences? I didn't think the cover was too bad when I was reading this at home, but when I broke it out on the airplane, I definitely made sure I left the dust jacket in my bag.

The Deal(ish):

This collection of short stories by some of the biggest names in fantasy, including Garth Nix and Neil Gaiman, is all about witches. But not all witches are created equal, so we have everything from a poem from Neil Gaiman, which I skipped over, to a story from (or inspired by?) Finnish folklore. There are modern witches and fairy tale witches, and a few hippie witches. I'm not much of a short story person usually, but this collection has a little bit of everything, so it wasn't hard to find something to entertain me.

The Best:

"A Handful of Ashes" by Garth Nix

I adore Garth Nix. He writes such wonderful heroines and heroes, and creates worlds I want to live in. In this story, Mari and Francesca are work-study students at a magical boarding school that's under attack, and when it ended, I wished he'd turn it into a full-length book.

"Barrio Girls" by Charles de Lint

Set in a desert barrio, de Lint's story follows two vampire-obsessed teenage girls who get on the wrong side of a bruja -- and not just any witch, but a vampire witch. The ending is creepily ambiguous, as the girls have different reactions to their new powers.

The Worst:

"Felidis" by Tanith Lee

A witch who's a giant cat. Or something. I couldn't get through three pages, sorry. The writing style was olde worlde faerie taleish, but not elegant -- full of choppy sentences and ponderous announcements of vengeance. Not my thing.

The Weird:

"Payment Due" by Frances Hardinge

The first in the many shape-shifter stories, this one has a girl who's able to switch bodies with animals. It's surprisingly cool, and I loved her magical take on a cat's vengeance.

"The Education of a Witch" by Ellen Klages

Lizzie is a pretty happy little girl, until her baby sister is born. Think Firestarter, but creepier, even without baby Drew Barrymore. Ellen Klages is a writer I'll be searching out.

Bonus Factor: Hogwarts

There's nothing better than teenage witches in boarding school!

Bonus Factor: Dogs

Diana Peterfreund's opening story of an enchanted dog is heartbreaking. Goneril, I'll adopt you!

Bonus Factor: Folklore

Obviously, all witch stories have their roots in folklore, and it's fun to trace the origins of many of these stories, as well as see new myths take shape.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Cat People

I get it. Cats and witches go way back, and witches are good at shape shifting. But I just really can't do cat people. I did dig Delia Sherman's shape shifting story, "The Witch In The Wood," which had kind of a Kristin Cashore vibe.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Weirdy-Beardy Wiccans

I like my witches more on the fantasy story side, and less on the "Let's hop in our VW bus and head to the commune for Beltane, man, cos it's gonna be far out" side. But if you dig it, more crystal power to you. Also slightly embarrassing is a Harry Dresden story from Jim Butcher -- I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I always cringe a bit for Harry when I read Dresden books. He's perfectly nice, but just a little too ... dorky (and I'm a big dork). Anyway, I know it's unpopular, so this is probably more of a bonus for most people than an anti-bonus.

Break Glass In Case Of: Halloween! Also, TEABS, Ennui, Doctors' Appointments

Like I said earlier, short stories aren't really my thing, but this book is great when you have a few minutes and want to get in the mood for Halloween. You could read one at a library Halloween party, or grab one while you drink your morning coffee and have the shivers for the rest of the day. It's also good for TEABS, when you need something short as a between-books palate cleanser, or if you're bored and need to jumpstart your imagination. Or pack it along to a doctor's appointment, so you're not in the middle of a great chapter when you finally get called back (just take the jacket off first).

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.