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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.

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