I should be reviewing this as I go, or I will probably forget details of stories as I read others, especially since Newford books tend toward character overlap.
1. "Somewhere in My Mind, There is a Painting Box": Meh. This story is a typical "guy gets back from Fairyland and doesn't feel comfortable in this world anymore" tale. The writing is the woodsy, lyrical folk song de Lint's fans have come to expect, but the story is flat. Two stars.
2. "Refinerytown": Several old faces come back for this story about collaboration on a graphic novel: Mona, Sophie, Nina, Jilly. The idea for the story apparently came from a private joke the author and his friends have. The plot is, again, a retread: storybook characters come to life to tell their creators to get the story straight. Another meh. Two stars.
3. "A Crow Girls' Christmas": To appreciate this extremely brief story, you must know and love the Crow Girls. The little devil divas get holiday jobs as Santa's Elves, and all goes smoothly...until everyone finds out what happens when you give Crow Girls unlimited access to your candy cane supply. Three stars.
4. "Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion": An ex-con turned cab driver picks up a beautiful stranger who asks him to help get her cat back from her ex-boyfriend, a powerful brujo. Since this story is so trademark de Lint, the surprise ending is no surprise, and leaves loose ends all over the place. Two-ish stars.
5. "Riding Shotgun": By this point, I had started to lose faith in the new anthology. I wanted to see something deeper and darker, and so far, the book was reading like a Christmas card. Not so in this story. Our hero is a recovering alcoholic who accidentally killed his golden boy younger brother in a car crash when they were teens. When he re-encounters the car from the wreck, it sends him back in time with the opportunity to fix the accident, only this time, he winds up dying instead...and learns painful truths about his younger, "better" brother. Four stars.
6. "Sweet Forget-Me-Not": A Lebanese boy is picked on relentlessly by classmates who equate him with Muslim terrorists until he falls in love with a gemmen, a spirit who has only a short time in this world. A little more cloying than sweet. One star.
7. "That Was Radio Clash": A gift allows desperate people to go back in time and fix their mistakes. After "Riding Shotgun," this story seemed redundant, and it certainly isn't as strong. One star.
8. "The Butter Spirit's Tithe": Our hero is the victim of a butter spirit's grudge. The spirit has constantly played tricks on him for seven years, from breaking his guitar strings to making his true love allergic to him, and will soon give him to the old spirit Grey Man as a tithe. But his friend Miki, who lost her brother Dolan in spirit world dealings, isn't about to let it happen. This story was sweetly written and makes use of traditional Celtic myth. Three stars.
9. "Da Slockit Light": Meran and Cerin return, along with cameos by Jilly, the Crow Girls, and Goon. Street people and runaways are disappearing into the goblin realm beneath Newford, and rumor has it that they're being turned into goblins. Meran enlists the help of a teen pickpocket who winds up saving the day. We are left with an interesting message about community and reserving judgment. Three stars.
10. "The Hour Before Dawn": In the hour before dawn, the dead speak to us, but when the sun rises, we forget. But not Jack, a PI who helps ghosts take care of unfinished business on the side. Life gets frustrating when a friend's dead wife sticks around to help Jack clear up his own unfinished business now, while it still matters. A sweet story, but the pushy ghost keeps it from being too sweet. Three stars.
11. "Newford Spook Squad": Okay, I'm glad that the authorities finally formed a task force to investigate all the weird paranormal happenings in Newford. I mean, shape-shifters, goblins, spirits, women manifesting themselves out of the internet? It's high time someone noticed. But Hellboy? Yup, this story features Hellboy and his girlfriend Liz. It's not so much a bad story as it is strange. Fanfiction, in the middle of a Newford collection? Between this and Refinerytown, I feel like de Lint didn't take this collection seriously. Anyway, while Hellboy is accurately described from the physical standpoint, I don't feel his character was captured accurately at all. One star.
12. "In Sight": Ruthie Blue is a black woman who sings folk music despite her name and the stereotype of black people as soul musicians. In this story, she meets a young aspiring artist named Tina and has a conversation with her about music and regrets. The topic of granting wishes and going back to fix the past is broached...yet again. The plot twist at the end is an absolute cliche and didn't add to the story, just left me confused and irritated. One star.
13. "The World in a Box": A man finds a box in an antique store that holds a miniature copy of the world which only he can see. When he whispers his desires to it, they come true, but he quickly learns that playing God isn't all it's cracked up to be. The overall premise is slightly timeworn, but the delivery is original and the story is very well written. Four stars.
Average story rating: 2.3 stars.
Overall: Some stories were definitely worth reading, and de Lint's writing is lyrical and folksy as always. However, this collection lacks the darkness, originality, and magic of older collections. Fans will still love it, but I wouldn't recommend this as a first trip to Newford.