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Monday, October 31, 2016

Kelley Armstrong: "Otherworld Chills: Final Tales of the OTHERWORLD"

Author:  Kelley Armstrong
Title: Otherworld Chills: Final Tales of the Otherworld (FINAL anthology, 10/2016)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles: Plume (imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)   

   I am placing this review of Armstrong's final OTHERWORLD anthology in a separate post because it is so long. Click HERE to read the rest of my reviews of OTHERWORLD novellas, novels, and anthologies.

     All but one of these stories and novellas have been previously published, so if you are a fan of the series, you've probably read some of them already. The new novella—"Baby Boom"—is a thought-provoking Paige/Lucas story that ends the anthology. For me, all of the stories were entertaining because I'm such a big fan of the series, but I'd have to admit that my favorite is "The Puppy Plan" because I'm crazy about Clay and Elena's twins.

     Embrace the obscure. New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong once again opens the gates to the Otherworld. This collection of rare and never-before-published novellas and short stories brings the clever wit, dark twists, and intense suspense Otherworld readers have come to expect. Favorite characters return, secrets are revealed, and several important story lines reach their conclusions.

                   THE NOVELLAS                    
RATINGS:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2   

This novella was originally published by Subterranean Press in 2013. It is currently available as a stand-alone in hardcover and e-book formats. NOTE: The hardcover edition includes six color interior illustrations by Xaviere Daumarie, but the e-book does not contain the artwork. Click on either pink-link above to go to the novella's page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

Nick Sorrentino knows everyone in the supernatural world considers him the Pack’s playboy, the pretty but not very useful werewolf whose only reputation involves his amorous exploits. Usually, Nick couldn’t care less what anyone outside the Pack thinks of him. But when it affects his hunt for Malcolm Danvers, a psychotic bogeyman from the Pack’s past, it matters. Necessity forces Nick to team up with mercenary half-demon Vanessa Callas to run Malcolm to ground in Detroit. Together, they discover Malcolm is more deadly than ever. And he wants to play. It’s time for Nick to prove he’s not just a lover. He’s a fighter.

Nick Sorrentino and Vanessa Callas are the romantic leads, and Malcolm Danvers is the villain. Vanessa works for Rhys Smith's team of supernatural mercenaries, and she is the agent in charge of this case.

The story is set just nine months after Elena took over as pack leader, just about the same time the pack learned that Malcolm Danvers (Jeremy's sociopathic father) is alive—not dead for twenty years as everyone had believed. If you have forgotten just how vicious Malcolm was in earlier books, this story will be a horrifying reminder. As Malcolm zigzags back and forth across Detroit, he leaves a trail of mutilated bodies in his wake. Here's the worst one: "Malcolm nailed her to the ceiling [of the attic], cut her throat and let her bleed out, hanging there." Some of his victims are his enemies, but others are innocents. The theme of the story is Nick's need to prove to himself and to his pack that he can do the job when it comes to getting rid of Malcolm once and for all (except that if you have read the more recent novels and novellas, you know that is not going to happen here). Nevertheless, by the time Nick is through with him, Malcolm has some new respect for Nick's strategic planning and fighting prowess. This is a great story, but you really have to cast your mind way back in time and block out the last few of Malcolm's appearances in order to fully appreciate it.

RATINGS:  Violence3; Sensuality2.5; Humor—3   

This novella is available separately as an e-book novella. It was originally part of Dates from Hell (2006), an anthology of four supernatural-themed novellas with Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, and Lori Handeland. Click HERE to go to the novella's page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

Half-demon Hope Adams loves her job. Granted, working for True News tabloid isn’t quite the career her high-society family had in mind for her. What they don’t know is that the tabloid job is just a cover, a way for her to investigate stories with a paranormal twist, and help protect the supernatural world from exposure. When Hope’s handler sends her and a date to a museum charity gala, Hope suspects there’s more to it than a free perk. He’s tested her before. This time, she’s ready for whatever he throws her way. Or so she thinks…until she meets her target: the intriguing, infuriating, and just plain sexy werewolf thief, Karl Marsten.

Hope Adams makes her series debut in this novella and meets her future husband, bad-boy Karl Marsten. Naturally enough, it's lust at first sight. Tristan Robard, who works for the Cortez Cabal, is the villain.

Hope Adams is working hard at two jobs: writing about pseudo-paranormal activities for a tabloid newspaper and working undercover for the interracial council to seek out supernatural problems. The covert job is the perfect solution for Hope's constant need to be near chaos. After all, she is an Expisco Half-Demon who craves chaos. Here, she explains how it works: " unending parade of negative chaos in every conceivable form, from grief to rage to sorrow to jealousy to hate. I saw, heard, felt, experienced it all. And the worst of it?...My soul drank it in like the finest champagne, reveling in the sweet taste." Hope and Karl are terrific characters who manage to outwit the villains every step of the way. They are both smart, witty, off-beat outliers with strong personalities, and they enjoy living on the edge. This is a tense, suspenseful story that has a sweet thread of newly aroused romance running through it.

          "Amityville Horrible"          

This novella was originally published in 2013 and is currently available separately in two formats: e-book and leather-bound, signed and numbered limited edition hardcover. The hardcover version features six interior illustrations by Maurizio Manzieri. Click HERE to go to the novella’s e-book page on where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

Jaime Vegas—spiritualist, entertainer and, unbeknownst to her audience, real-life necromancer—swore she’d never do another reality ghost show after the last fiasco. But when she’s railroaded into a charity gig, she finds herself back on the set, this time with a cast of photogenic college kids, an up-and-coming Russian spiritualist, and a tale of missing girls and murder in New England. It’s cheesy, but that’s show business. With her werewolf Alpha lover, Jeremy Danvers, along to keep her nights interesting, it’s not so bad really. Until the bloody ghosts show up. Jaime has never faced spirits like these, and no matter how hard she tries, they won’t be ignored.  

Jaime Vegas, necromancer and professional spiritualist, narrates the story in her sardonic, first-person voice. Her boyfriend, Jeremy, plays a tangential supporting role, but Jaime is at the heart of the action. There are several villains, so I'll let you figure them out on your own. A word to the wise: suspect everyone. The story is set just before Jeremy turns over his pack alpha position to Elena.

This is basically a haunted house mystery story—a sort of ghost busters reality show gone wrong. Against her better judgment, Jaime accepts an assignment to do a ghost-hunting TV show in a house in the infamous town of Amityville. From the very beginning, things begin to go wrong: ghosts don't act like ghosts; some ghosts are visible but one is not; a spiritualist is added to the cast, which violates a clause in Jaime's contract; and several of the "normals"—locals recruited to participate—are definitely not the sharpest arrows in the quiver, if you get my drift. The story, which involves three murdered girls, doesn't really feel like a good fit with this collection because it actually reads like a novel from a ghost-buster series. Here are a few of those series that I have reviewed. If you're a fan of ghostly mysteries with flickering lights and things that go bump in the night, click on the series title to read my reviews:
          Robin D. Owens' GHOST SEER series
          Victoria Laurie's GHOST HUNTER MYSTERIES
          Amanda Stevens'  THE GRAVEYARD QUEEN series
          Chris Marie Green’s JENSEN MURPHY, GHOST FOR HIRE series

          "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word"          

This short story, which is narrated by Zoe, was originally published in the anthology, Expiration Date (2015), a collection of 25 original stories that examine the "what-ifs" of our expiring future. The anthology is currently available in e-book and used paperback formats. Click HERE to go to the Expiration Date's e-book page on where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

Vampires Zoe Takano and Cassandra DuCharme are the main characters of this short story (just 15 pages), which is set in Zoe's city, Toronto. There is no true villain, just two old frenemies getting reacquainted.

When Cass turns up in Zoe's favorite dive bar, she obviously wants a favora favor that Zoe is unwilling to grant until Cass apologizes for a long-ago interference in Zoe's lifeone that caused her to lose someone that she loved very much. Cass is too proud to say that difficult "S" word, so Zoe sets up an ingenious sting to motivate Cass to do the right thing. The story takes place just before Zoe becomes a delegate to the interracial council.

         "Off-Duty Angel"          

"Off-Duty Angel" is one of two novellas published in Armstrong's The Hunter and the Hunted (2012). The anthology is currently available in e-book format. Click HERE to go to its page on where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

Dark witch and half-demon Eve Levine is desperate for a little entertainment while her lover, Kristof Nast, is detained in afterlife court—enough to volunteer an extra week’s worth of angel corps duty just to pass the time. Luckily something even better comes up: a real celestial bounty-hunter mission to trail a shaman, someone who might prove to be a useful lead in Kristof’s court case. Following the target goes smoothly, until he leads Eve to the British Museum, where she inadvertently steps into a secret dimensional passage and stumbles upon a far more enticing puzzle . . . and a much greater danger.

Eve and her angelic partner, Trsiel, are adventurers who find themselves in a very hellish dimension. Eve's lover, Kristof, makes brief appearances at the beginning and the end. The villains are hordes of nameless, devilish creatures who are intent on making Eve and Trsiel's lives miserable. 

Although at one point this appears to be a dark story with some substance, it turns out to be something else entirely. Eve is always fun because she has such a sardonic take on her life (and death): "dark witch, half-demon, part-time ghost, part-time angel." Trust me, it's complicated. This is an entertaining story, but I was hoping for something more substantial.

          "The Puppy Plan"          

"The Puppy Plan," told from the perspective of nine-year-old Logan Danvers, is one of two novellas published in Armstrong's Gifted: A Holiday Anthology (2014). The anthology is currently available in e-book format. Click HERE to go to its page on where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

When Logan finds a puppy abandoned by the roadside a few days before Christmas, he knows it’s a sign. His sister Kate wants a dog more than anything. Their parents aren’t completely opposed to the idea. It’s just a bad time. A really bad time. Maybe next year. But now there’s this puppy in need of a home and a girl in need of a pet…So how does a boy who always plays by the rules give his sister what she wants most?

Logan and the puppy are the main characters. The supporting characters are the rest of the Danvers family: Kate, Elena, Clay, and Jeremy.

Even though this is a puppy story, it is steeped in Logan's coming-of-age angst. Even at age nine, Logan is almost too good to be true. He is a smart, respectful, responsible, and thoughtful boy—so perfect that I believe he can exist only in a book of fiction. If you can get past the perfection that is Logan, the story—about an abandoned puppy, a scared young mutt, and an upcoming Christmas holiday—is terrific, layered with humor, sadness, anxiety, andeventuallyjoy. Armstrong gives the story line a satisfying twist at the very end.   

          "Baby Boom"          
RATINGS:  Violence1; Sensuality2; Humor—2   

"The Baby Boom" is a new Paige/Lucas novella.

Paige and Lucas are the main characters with Benicio Cortez, Savannah Levine, and Adam Vasic as the supporting characters. There is one mildly villainous character who is the catalyst for the twist at the end of the story.

Lucas, Paige, Adam, and Savannah are making one of their infrequent visits to Miami, to visit Lucas's father, Benicio Cortez. Savannah is four months pregnant, so she and Paige are doing lots of shopping for baby paraphernalia. One night, when Paige and Lucas have dinner with Benicio, he urges them to have a child so that Lucas's position as his heir will be solidified. An argument ensues, with Lucas telling Benicio that they have decided not to have children and to stay out of their personal business. All too soon, though, something strange seems to be going on with Paige, and she suspects that Benicio is using trickery to make his demand come true. The theme is the ambivalence that Lucas and Paige feel about parenthood and how they come to terms with their feelings. There is no violence, only unforgivable actions taken by greedy, ambitious men who are willing to go to unbelievable lengths to achieve their selfish goals. This is a great little story that points into a very different future for the cartels, but since this is the final book in the OTHERWORLD anthology series, I'm not sure that we will ever learn what happens next.

Thursday, October 27, 2016



I have just updated an ongoing post for Suzanne Johnson's SENTINELS OF NEW ORLEANS by adding a review of Pirateship Down, a story collection for this series. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

UPDATE! Ransom Riggs: Final Novel in PECULIAR CHILDREN SERIES: "Library of Souls"

Author:  Ransom Riggs
Novel: Library of Souls (hard cover, e-book, and audio9/2015; paperback4/2017)
Plot Type:  Fantasy with a touch of horror
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles:  Quirk Books 

     Library of Souls is the third and FINAL novel in the PECULIAR CHILDREN series. I have reviewed the first two novels in separate posts. Here are the links to those posts:
> Click HERE to go to my review of the first book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. This review contains a full description of the world-building.
> Click HERE to go to my review of Hollow City, the second book. 
> Click HERE to read my review of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel.
Riggs includes the following definitions at the beginning of Library of Souls, and I am including them here just for review:
Peculiars: "The hidden branch of any species, human or animal, that is blessed—and cursed—with supernormal traits. Respected in ancient times, feared and persecuted more recently, peculiars are outcasts who live in the shadows." In this novel, the primary peculiars are Jacob and Emma, the human hero and heroine, and Addison, the well-spoken, eyeglass-wearing dog.
Loop: "A limited area in which a single day is repeated endlessly. Created and maintained by ymbrynes to shelter their peculiar wards from danger, loops delay indefinitely the aging of their inhabitants. But loop dwellers are by no means immortal: each day they 'skip' is a debt that's banked away, to be repaid in gruesome rapid aging should they linger too long outside their loop."
Ymbrynes: "The shape-shifting matriarchs of peculiardom. They can change into birds at will, manipulate time, and are charged with the protection of peculiar children."
Hollowgast (aka Hollows): "Monstrous ex-peculiars who hunger for the souls of their former brethren. Corpselike and withered except for their muscular jaws, within which they harbor powerful, tentacle-like tongues. Especially dangerous because they're invisible to all by a few peculiars, of whom Jacob Portman is the only one known alive."
Wights: "A hollowgast that consumes enough peculiar souls becomes a wight, which are visible to all and resemble normals in every way but one: their pupil-less, perfectly white eyes. Brilliant, manipulative, and skilled at blending in, wights have spent years infiltrating both normal and peculiar society...They've waged a long campaign of murder, fear, and kidnapping against peculiars, using hollowgast as their monstrous assassins. Their ultimate goal is to exact revenge upon, and take control of, peculiardom."
                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                     
     A boy with extraordinary powers. An army of deadly monsters. An epic battle for the future of peculiardom.

     The adventure that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls. As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

     They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all. Like its predecessors, Library of Souls blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.

                    MY REVIEW                      

    The action starts early and continues at a break-neck pace all the way to the end of this final novel. Jacob, Emma, and Addison are on a quest to find and rescue their peculiar friends and their ymbryne, Miss Peregrine, from the clutches of Caul, Miss Peregrine's villainous brother. Currently, the intrepid trio is in the present—not in a loop—so if they are injured or killed, there will be no replay. This is for keeps.

     As the story begins, Jacob has just discovered that, under certain circumstances, he can control hollows with just his voice—for example, when he is completely terrified because one of them is trying to kill him. When Jacob and his friends are trapped in a tunnel with a hungry hollow, Jacob suddenly discovers that the creature responds to his orders. When he says "Don't move." "Get back" "Stay." the hollow obeys, and then begins to follow Jacob—not attacking, just following along behind the little group like a very dangerous pet. As time passes, Jacob fine-tunes his interactions with his hollow and becomes more confidant in his new supernormal power.

     Meanwhile Addison is tracking the scent of their peculiar friends, who are in the clutches of Caul and his army of wights and hollows. The trail comes to an end on a riverbank, where they climb into a boat owned by a man named Sharon (an obvious play on the myth of Charon, the ferryman who carries the dead across the River Styx from the world of the living to the world of the dead). Sharon is "seven feet tall at least, his massive frame draped in a cloak and his face hidden beneath a dark hood." The river-ride-to-hell metaphor becomes even more obvious when their voyage takes them directly to a peculiar part of London called Devil's Acre, because Sharon all but admits that he transported Jacob's peculiar friends there. 

     As they travel into Devil's Acre, Jacob's hollow is still following him—underwater. When some river pirates attack Sharon's boat, Jacob commands the hollow to stop them and is happily surprised that the hollow does exactly that. Soon after they arrive in Devil's Acre, Addison hitches a ride to the island on which Caul has established a fortress where he holds all of his captive peculiars and ymbrynes. Sharon promises to assist Jacob and Emma, but when he leaves them alone to run an errand, they decide to strike out on their own and learn quickly that Devil's Acre is a very dangerous place. Eventually, Sharon and his friends come to their rescue and carry them off to meet Miss Peregrine's second brother, Myron Bentham.

     At this point, Riggs has Bentham fill in the gaps in the mythology, going back to the beginning
to pre-hollow/wightdays and telling the tragic story of who created those monsters and why. But can we trust Bentham? Jacob and Emma aren't sure (and neither was I). 

     For me, the explanation of the mythology is the most interesting part of the story, mostly because it isn't driven by weird photographs. I know...I know...The photographs are the most famous element of this series, but at this point I feel that rather than planning a general plot and then using photos that enhance it, Riggs is letting the photos themselves "write" too many of the story lines. Several incidents seem to have been jammed into this already lengthy book just because Riggs couldn't resist adding a few more really strange pictures. 

     Needless to say, Jacob and Emma are so intelligent, fearless, and battle-ready that they win the day in the requisite showdown battle with Caul near the end of the book. But then, Jacob has a decision to make. Should he go back to his normal family, or should he stay with his first-and-only-love, Emma, and his peculiar friends. Riggs finds a satisfying way to resolve Jacob's problem even if it is a bit too quick and neat.

     All in all, this has been a great series, very fresh and inventive. The best of the three books is the first one, mostly because it introduces Jacob and the peculiar children and sets up the mythology so perfectly. The second book is not as successful because it feels totally driven by the photographs, although the wild and crazy scenes at sea are quite exciting. This final book is better than the second but doesn't quite measure up to the first, with the exception of the explanation of the early parts of the mythology, which are well crafted and fit right in with the events of the earlier books. 

     Tim Burton's movie based on the series is in theaters now and has received mostly good reviews. I haven't had time to see it yet, but plan to do so soon. I recommend the series because it is so imaginative and because Riggs has done such a masterful job with characterization. We really care about Emma and Jacob and their friends as they try to live their peculiar lives in as normal a way as possible.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Library of Souls on its page. Just click on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.