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on 5 March 2006
Neil Gaiman is a master story teller, IMHO, and this selection of short stories by him is the perfect showcase for his talents. An incredible assortment of tales awaits the reader in this marvelous book - an old lady that finds the Holy Grail in an Oxfam shop for 30p - a little boy that meets a troll - the shortest but most haunting Xmas story I've ever read - the Jack-in-the-box that no-one played with......oh, so many and all are pure genius. My personal favourite is the very last in the book, which is a re-telling of Snow White and because of N G's version I will never think of her in the same light again. I feel that several of these stories have the potential of becoming full length novels one day - I'll just have to wait and see. One warning, if you haven't read any of Gaiman's work before you will soon become addicted after reading this book.
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on 4 January 2004
This is a collection of some of Neil Gaiman's short works. You could say there were poems and stories in the book, but saying there is prose, a rondel, long verse, short verse and some peculiar mixtures of obscure types of writing would be a better description.
A few of the stories are the conventional type but many of them are not. Most of the stories have a fairly dark subject matter - indeed some of them are truly horrible - but all are marvellously written, and most extremely original.
There's also a long introduction to the book with a small commentary on each piece plus an extra bonus story.
This isn't a book I'd buy as a present for someone unless I knew their tastes extremely well. It's not the type of book that everyone would enjoy - there are sexual stories, there are dark deeds and just the layouts of some of the pieces make them more different than some people would feel happy with - but I thought it was brilliant. Not every piece will hit the mark, but it's not the type of fluffy read you'll wonder why you bothered with. It's full of stories that stay with you for a long time.
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on 19 January 2014
The good thing about reading an author's work retrospectively is to see how far he has come in his writing career. "Smoke and Mirrors" is a collection of stories and poems, and other short pieces, that had been culled from Gaiman's early career in the 90s. There are undoubtedly some precious gems in this uneven and checkered collection, and even the less spectacular ones (at least in my opinion), are collectively, a work-in-progress document, almost like a writer's working diary.

The volume starts off promisingly enough with "The Wedding Present", embedded in Gaiman's eloquent introduction - a fantastical yet eerily sobering account of the power of the written word and how it can become interchangeable with real lives. The line between fact and fiction blurs for a pair of newly-weds, with shocking results. The next story "Chivalry", is an exemplar of Gaiman's skillful way of conflating the recognisable contemporary world with an older, and legendary one. Few authors I know would be able to make the premise of finding the Holy Grail in an Oxfam shop work, but Gaiman does just that.

Elsewhere, werewolves and vampires appear, some written in mock-heroic style, and with varying levels of success. One such story is spoof on the "Baywatch" series, titled (what else) "Bay Wolf", which is morbidly humorous. Refashioned fairytales, like "Snow, Glass, Apples", effectively an alternate retelling of "Snow White" from the Stepmother Queen's perspective, is one of the more macabre and haunting stories.

Some pieces dealt with social issues like AIDS and animal testing (with horrifyingly logic in "Babycakes"), while others were commissioned to mark special occasions, for instance "Looking for the Girl", written for an anniversary issue of "Penthouse", or for certain publications. One of the more engaging stories is "Troll Bridge", which was nomiated for the 1994 World Fantasy Award, a fairy tale of sorts for adults.

Collectively, these may not be Gaiman at his best, but they are worth reading as they provide a glimpse into the storyteller's rich imagination and his storyworlds.
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Make no mistake, I very much appreciate and admire Neil Gaiman. I was delighted when "The Graveyard Book" won the Newbery. "Neverwhere", "Coraline", "Stardust" - all marvelous. And Gaiman has written some fabulous short stories. Some of them appear in this book. But only some of them, and those that are included are surrounded by stories that aren't very special and aren't particularly satisfying.

Every reviewer has a favorite in the book. Some like "Snow, Glass, Apples"; some like "The Goldfish Pool..." or "Troll Bridge". I'm partial to "Chivalry". But there is a lot of fill here. Many of the best stories have appeared elsewhere. Also an overlong introduction and a rather indulgent piece that reads like a collection of blog entries on each story tend to dampen one's enthusiasm.

For what it's worth, some of the best stories, ("Troll Bridge", "Chivalry", etc.), were reprinted ten years after this book was released in the collection titled "M is For Magic". That book, also available on Amazon, has a much better selection than this one does, so if you can only swing one Gaiman short story collection, you might want to consider that.
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on 19 March 2002
There is something so absolutely compelling about everything that Neil Gaiman seems to write. I don't know quite how he does it, but I always find myself picking up one of his books and being drawn into regardless of my own freewill or choice. Here in this collection of Short stories stands a fine example of something that many writers these days do not always succeed in - Gaiman shows us how a story should be told. These tales may be short but each of them is complete in their own way, and even at their darkest they can be amusing, and totally engrossing.
I would recomend to anybody with a few hours to kill that picking up this volume would be a couple of hours very well spent. Right from his introduction Gaiman makes the reader feel a part of these little worlds he's created and somehow you just have to read them all. If you haven't discovered this guy yet - it's about time you did.
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on 11 October 2015
There is so much to recommend this book. It's a great introduction for anyone who hasn't read Gaiman before. One story in particular - Troll Bridge - I have read aloud to groups of people. It's a reasonably long read, but always worthwhile. Some amazing ideas in between the covers of this book, most of them beautifully twisted.
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on 24 March 2014
First, I am hugely biased because I love practically everything Neil Gaiman writes. There are some absolutely wonderful stories in here; for example, having read his version of Snow White I want him to redo all the old fairy stories (PLEASE!!).

However I really wanted to read his comments/commentary in conjunction with each story - to understand a little more how he writes and how these came to be written. In a paperback, this would be easy - just use two bookmarks and move them both forward each time. Yes, I know I can bookmark in Kindle but it's clumsy to keep tagging back to the commentary section and having to delete old bookmarks otherwise I got confused about which one to aim for. I love my Kindle to pieces but this is one book I'd have preferred to read on paper.
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on 2 August 2013
This is a mixed bag, as you might expect. There are a few good stories in here - in particular I thought Shoggoth's Old Peculiar and the reworking of Snow White were both witty and well executed - but there's a lot of dross in there too: Painfully teenage-sounding poems about vampires; embarrassingly bad efforts at soft porn and several stories which just don't seem to go anywhere at all.

The competence of the writing is patchy too. I've read and enjoyed Gaiman's novels American Gods, Anansi Boys and Neverwhere, and in each of those I found the style and execution at least as important as the content. It was they way his prose flowed, and the manner in which he constructed the stories which kept me reading them. While that skill is evident in the best of the stories in this collection, in most of them you get a young writer who has not yet found his voice.
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on 6 February 2014
Since watching Stardust, a few years back, I had the impression that the person who wrote it was funny, dark and a definite invite to a fantasy dinner party. I suspected that I would love whoever had written it and I was right.

I started reading Smoke and Mirrors around my friends’, Nick and Em’s, house after Nick said he had a book that he thought I would enjoy. Normally I would have put the book away and taken it home for later. I like to think of myself as a fairly social being after all, and, as much as it sometimes pains me, I know that reading at a party is not generally the done thing. But, as everyone was settling down to watch a film and as they are good friends, who I doubted would mind, I started reading. I’m not actually sure what the film was but I am sure that missing it was worthwhile to get my first glimpse of Gaiman’s writing.

I have to admit that I have not really read a book of short stories since I was young, I have always chosen to get stuck into a novel, believing that the depth and longevity, were things I needed. I was right about needing the depth but very wrong to think it could only be truly gained from a novel, certainly in this case anyway. To liken it to food (quite appropriate given some of Gaiman’s stories) reading each piece was like a taking a mouthful of an incredibly velvety, rich chocolate cake, you only needed a bite to get the whole flavour. It was enough. Each story was just enough.

As Gaiman himself says the process and mechanics of writing fascinate him and this can be seen through this multi-genre book, the fact that he plays around with the structure of his stories and that authors appear as protagonists. The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories depicts the journey from book to film and the adaptation of a story beyond recognition. Presumably Gaiman has had this experience, in fact, I am yet to read Stardust but have been told that it is quite different in book form.

He experiments with traditional form and the linearity of stories, often beginning in the middle or at the end. Gaiman is both so expressive and so skillful, as a writer, that his imagination never seems bound by his pen or the limits of reality, despite the fact that by his own admission several of these stories were left abandoned at some time or another until inspiration struck once more.

Like the structure of his stories the structure of the book, as a whole, was interesting too. In his lengthily introduction Gaiman explains a little bit about the pieces in Smoke and Mirrors and his inspiration for each of them. This added context and was interesting because it explored the process of writing and where ideas come from. At first I read each little ‘story behind the story’ before I read the story (that’s a mouthful!) but half way through I decided to read the introduction to the story afterwards to see which themes I picked up on and what I thought it was really about, because after all the writer’s interpretation is never the only one. I think I preferred it that way round, because unlike a film, when I like to at least know vaguely what it is about before I watch it, I like the mystery in books. It might also be a habit left over from my University days when I would have to read the book first and then attend the lecture.

Most, if not all, of the stories in Smoke and Mirrors focused on the darker parts of life with reoccurring themes of magic, manipulation, spirituality, hell, fairy tales, vampirism, consumerism, primal instincts, and sexual peversities all unashamedly presented for the reader to experience through the eyes of an incredibly imaginative writer. One of the themes that Gaiman explores is the idea of the bad in the world existing but being contained in some form or another. In The Price a cat guards the barrier between Earth and Hell, in How Do You Think it Feels? it is a gargoyle that shields a heart and in The Wedding Present, it was a story itself that protected the characters. In Gaiman’s world the dark is never far away from the light and the mundane is never independent from the strange.

It’s hard to pick favourites from Smoke and Mirrors because each piece of writing is so unique and meaningful but if I was held at gunpoint I would have to say that mine were The Wedding Present, The Price, The Disappearance of Miss Finch, The Queen of Knives and Snow, Glass, Apples. Eaten and Babycakes were the stories that disturbed me the most and Chivalry made me smile.

In all of Gaiman’s narratives his characters are so distinctive, in voice, that it is clear how much of himself goes into them. That’s not to say that all of the surreal plot twists were taken from his life but more that to write a piece he has to believe in it and has to be able to place himself inside the story, in some form or another. In fact he says himself that the events of Queen of Knives is so close to what actually happened that he has to remind relatives that it isn’t really the case.

Gaiman’s book reminded me of some of my most vivid dreams, pieces of life strung together in bizarre but somehow very real ways. It resonated with me the same way that the memories of fragmented nightmares or feelings of forgotten fears do. Much like in dreams (mine at least) none of these pieces seem superficial or vague and everything feels as though it has a deeper meaning or a secret you are supposed to search for.

It feels to me, so much more than it has before, that I am getting to see inside an author’s mind and that he in turn can see into the very depths of the world. Gaiman is dazzlingly perceptive, x-rated and possibly the most interesting and terrifying author I have come across. His insight into life is so much scarier than a horror could ever be.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was that I hadn't read it sooner.

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on 14 February 2013
I love Neil Gaiman's books and was excited to get this collection of short stories (to read on the train to work). Some of them really pull you in and I couldn't put them down. Some were not my cup of tea and I so I sped through them (peronal opinion though!). Neil Gaiman has written introductions at the start of the collection for each story/poem, explaining the reasons behind them - definitely worth reading these.
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