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All of the stories in this anthology have a connection with going to school. As Harris says in her Introduction,"There's always something happening under the surface in any given classroom. Some kids come from homes the rest of us couldn't even imagine, some teachers have their own secrets, and there are always dramas, ranging from does-he-like-me? to I-forgot-to-do-my-homework. Toni and I figured there are some dramas that might be a little more out of the ordinary." This is a nice collection of new stories—all written in 2012. The six best stories are marked with stars: ★
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: In this never-before-published Sookie Stackhousestory, Sookie heads for her "nephew's" kindergarten class with treats for his birthday celebration. (Hunter is actually the son of Sookie's late first cousin, Hadley, but he calls her "Aunt Sookie" because it's easier that way.) When the crazed boyfriend of the school secretary shows up at the school with a gun, Sookie and Hunter's teacher must use every power they have to bring down the villain. This is a typical Sookie story. Not bad, but not outstanding. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in the Sookie Stackhouseseries. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in Harris' Harper Connelly series.
COLLEGE: A team of cynical university students work on a research project that seeks to discover "the perfect spell. The spell that may well be the core magical ritual from which all of our world's religions have sprung." When dissension rises within the group, the students learn the importance of faith and the power of magic. This one gets a bit preachy in parts, but all in all, it's a good story. It might have been stronger if less time had been spent on didactics and more on the characterization.
LAW ENFORCEMENT ACADEMY: In one of the best stories in the book, two special agents and a deputy sheriff teach a class about solving unusual crimes to a group of experienced officers. When the instructors select one student to work on a special case involving vampires, their reasons for choosing her soon become clear. I have to say I never saw the ending coming. It's a well-told story that keeps the reader wondering right to the final page.
ONE-ON-ONE TRAINING: As the story begins, the lead character witnesses a death and then tells us, "Later that night, I burned the doll that killed him." In this tale of deadly poppets and magical bones, an apprentice practitioner rebels against the cruel and powerful witch who trained her. The protagonist, who is the first-person narrator, is nicely drawn, as is her mentor, the evil witch, and the tension builds throughout the story as we wait to see just how far the narrator can be pushed before she pushes back. Although this story is not part of Liu's Hunter Kiss series, you may wish to click HERE to read my review of thatseries.
HIGH SCHOOL: People say that high school is a hellish experience, and in this story Amy Weinstein finds that saying to be literally true. She finds herself in a school filled with bullying students and mean-to-the-bone teachers and is forced to remember a moment in her life when she made a bargain that had consequences she didn't really understand at the time. This is an O.K. story, but it doesn't quite sustain its suspense through to the end.
REMEDIAL WORMHOLE CALLING CLASS: Calliope (Callie) Reaper-Jones has to take a class in remedial wormhole calling because as the president of Death, Inc., she has to be able to transport herself around the planet without the help of her assistant. When the instructor forces Callie to call up a wormhole, she transports herself to a cold and snowy venue where she helps save a young woman from the clutches of a villainous magic user. This is one of the weakest of the stories, with attempts at humor that are based entirely on the use of silly extraneous details (lots of Jimmy Choo shoe jokes) and lame sarcasm (Callie is needlessly and ungraciously sarcastic with everyone—no exceptions). Click HERE to read my reviews of books in Benson's Calliope Reaper-Jones series.
PRISON SCHOOL: This terrific story uses the myth of Agamemnon and his daughter to tell a story set in a horrific world in which the Hungries (zombies) have taken over the world, and the non-infected have fled to California. As one teacher exclaims when a student asks a question about New York history, "...it's irrelevant. It's ancient history! The Hungries tore up the map. There's nothing east of Kansas anymore. Not a damn thing." In a prison on an army base, Melanie is one of a small group of children who, for unknown (at first) reasons, are kept in solitary cells and strapped down to wheelchairs when they are taken to their classroom. By the end, Melanie (and the reader) learn all of the heart-breaking facts. The story is open-ended, and I'm hoping that Carey turns this mythology into a series. For me, this is the best story in the book, with an intricately devised mythology, sympathetic characters, and a nicely twisted ending. Who knew that all of that could be accomplished in just 36 pages?
SPOOK SCHOOL: This story is part of Hunter's Skinwalker world, taking place after Raven Cursed and between the short story in Cat Tales and the novel, Death's Rival. The protagonist is Rick LeFleur, a former New Orleans detective who was bitten by a were-jaguar two months ago and is now going through training at the Psychometry Law Enforcement Division of Homeland Security (aka, PsyLED Spook School). Rick and his "partners," a permanently changed werewolf and a cuddly but deadly grindylow, must go through a tough final test before they are accepted into the PsyLED ranks. When someone attempts to sabotage Rick's chances, he and his team must work together to discover the truth. This story contains the quotation from which the book's title is taken: "Inside [the box] was a golden apple on a gold chain. 'A Golden Delicious apple,' he said, 'for the...creature.'" This is a nicely structured police procedural story with a well-developed lead character and effectively drawn supporting characters, particularly the werewolf partner, who never says a word but conveys his feelings eloquently.
MAGIC ACADEMY: This story stars Julie, Kate and Cullen's adopted daughter in the Kate Daniels series. When Kate assigns Julie to find a missing student at the Seventh Star Academy, Julie finds herself involved in a case of magical jealousy and discovers that the Academy might not be a bad place for her to finish her education, particularly when she meets the handsome guy who helps her out on her case. If you're familiar with the KD series, you'll appreciate Julie's description of Kate: "Kate usually dealt with things by talking, and when that didn't work, chopping obstacles into tiny pieces and frying them with magic so they didn't get back up."You will enjoy the story more if you are familiar with the KD series, but it's definitely strong enough to stand alone. The story line is skillfully developed, with a nice build-up to the climactic show-down scene. Click HERE to read my reviews of books in the Kate Daniels series. Click HERE to read my reviews of books in Andrews' The Edge series.
COLLEGE: Professor Andy Abrams is notorious for his preoccupation with his chosen field of study, Jewish myths and mysticism. When Robert, the abusive ex-husband of his colleague, Karen, comes back to town determined to get her back one way or another, Andy puts his magical talents to good use as he convinces Robert to turn right back around and leave—as quickly as possible. This is an inventive use of the supernatural (can't tell you more than that without spoilers) that uses a semi-Hitchcockian style, with the crucial action taking place in an enclosed space where tension builds and the climax takes a magical turn.
FORENSICS SCHOOL: Claire and Jackson are partner-agents in the Boston FBI field office. Claire is in the waning days of an unhappy marriage to Peter, and Jackson has the unspoken hots for his partner. When they are tapped for a special vampire task force, Claire gets some shocking family news, and the partners get jobs in a brand new FBI unit: Vampire Scene Investigations (VSI). A few illogical plot points make this one of the weaker stories.
CANINE OBEDIENCE SCHOOL: This is a story from the Remy Chandler series. When Remy is hired by a dog trainer to identify the source of a threat, he takes his sentient, mind-talking dog, Marlowe, along as cover and back-up. During their first visit to one of the client's obedience classes, the client's life is put in jeopardy, and Remy and Marlowe must partner up to take out the villain. You don't need to have read the series to understand and appreciate the story. The mental conversations between Remy and Marlowe are quite humorous in a low-key kind of way. Click HERE to read my reviews of Sniegoski's Remy Chandler series.
WOLFEN WISDOM SEMINAR: This story is part 2 of the Joyce and Dave adventures that began with "Pirate Dave's Haunted Amusement Park" in the anthology entitled Death's Excellent Vacation. This time around, Joyce is attending a werewolf seminar to learn the pros and cons of her relatively new shifter life style. Joyce gets way more than she signed up for when her relationship with her boyfriend, Vampire Dave, comes to the attention of a ghostly ferry captain and a human who specializes in supernatural research. This is a light and fluffy story that combines humor and suspense.