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Bizarre abounds when you open the Cabinet of Curiosities
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‘The Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities’

Edited by: Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
Price: $22.99
Rating: (three out of five bookmarks)

The most frequent explanation I hear from people who say they don't regularly read books is they don't have time.

I can understand that work, family and our daily routines take a lot of energy, and to unwind most people like a mindless mode of relaxation rather than try to tackle a 300-page novel they don't think they could finish.

Maybe that's the problem: reading takes time, and unless we already know the book will be great, it may feel like it is a chore to complete.

That's one reason why, in those moments when I feel crunched for time, I pick up a short story collection. I gobble up those sorts of anthologies quickly, because I can get through one story usually in 10 to 20 minutes and feel a sense of accomplishment before moving onto the next.

So this week, I took a look at a new release of short stories, a science-fiction symphony of strangeness called "The Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities."

Upon entering the fictitious doctor's legendary cabinet, you'll be drawn into a menagerie of mysterious marvels: scientific spectacles that were ahead of their time, mystical relics with mystifying powers, and dreamlike artwork that seems to have been plucked straight from the depths of the human subconscious.

You'll learn about Nikola Tesla's lesser known inventions in his quest to rival Thomas Edison in mastering electricity, how a cup of tea from a special tea pot allows one to, literally, drink up dreams, and how many well-known scientists, artists and historians throughout time are connected, in some small way, to the enigmatic and reclusive Dr. Lambshead and his ever-expanding collection.

Several popular writers and artists contribute their work to this compilation, including Garth Nix (author of the "Keys to the Kingdom" series), Lev Grossman (author of "The Magicians"), Alan Moore (of graphic novel "Watchman" fame), and Mike Mignola (whose artwork here, as in the "Hellboy" comics, captures a shadowy, gritty ambiance that adds an edge of eeriness).

Each story and illustration has a unique voice and style, from documented "historical" accounts, to first-person reflections on personal encounters with Dr. Lambshead's artifacts, to "stories inspired by the Cabinet" that theorize where several of the items may have originated from.

Unfortunately, for as excited as I was about seeing what sort of bizarre concoctions these writers could conjure, I was let down by a few of the stories I hoped would be more imaginative, given the type of objects being described.

The contribution by Alan Moore was rather bland, as he merely catalogues a few random pieces in the cabinet in a dry, analytical manner.

While the descriptions are vivid and detailed, he gives very little for the reader to become intrigued by these items. A spin on the old legend of a "monkey's paw" (in this case, involving a visitor to the cabinet who now has reoccurring nightmares about the creature the paw came from) was so drawn out, I found myself skipping over all the passages that did not pertain to the main storyline, as much of them in no way enhanced the central plot.

However, for those who enjoy science fiction — particularly the subgenre of "steampunk" (distinguished as Victorian-style advanced technology, with one good example in the anthology being the mechanical monstrosity called the Clockroach), there are some fun, even humorous entries that will keep you entertained.

"The Cabinet of Curiosities" will give your imagination a good jolt of wonder, and you can enjoy it in small doses as you pick a new story each day.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesville
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