Novelist Reed's (J. Eden, 1996, etc.) sixth sheaf of stories, covering more than 30 years of her darkly speculative fiction. Though a handful of these are fresh to print, and all are chosen to hew to the titular theme of women, it's not clear whether most have been drawn from earlier collections. In any event, the volume offers a definitive, indispensable sampling of Reed in top form. These are unconventional stories, the kind that make most editors wince and tremble unless they're longtime impresarios of the far-out--such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which first published many of these tales. Still, not all of Reed's work really goes beyond the pale. Among the standouts, for example, is ``The Wait,'' a piece not so distant from Shirley Jackson's now classic ``The Lottery.'' In Reed's telling, the ill of a small town in Georgia are made to lie down outdoors in the village square until someone passes through who can offer them a cure; young virgins (and not-so- young) are made to wait in a field until. . . .when? A bit stranger is ``The Weremother,'' a story about a mother werewolf whose love proves to be so strong that she'll break through steel to get to her son--and yet she worries, too, about whether his fiancÇe will know how to iron his shirts. No silver bullet or stake can stop her, for even when dead she still wields--guilt! Yet more matriarchs people ``The Mothers of Shark Island,'' but these get eaten--by sharks--after they try to escape from prison. For such martyrs, no doubt, the only final resting place can be The Tomb of the Unknown Mother. For your five most wanted list. And don't miss ``The Bride of Bigfoot.''