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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

ANTHOLOGY: "Kicking It"

Title:  Kicking It: All-New Tales of Murder, Magic, and Manolos   

Editors:  Faith Hunter and Kalayna Price 

Authors:  Rachel Caine, Chloe Neill, Rob Thurman, Shannon K. Butcher, Chris Marie Green, Faith Hunter, Lucienne Diver, Christina Henry, Kalayna Price

Publisher:  ROC (12/2013)


      I always enjoy reading anthologies for two reasons: catching up on the adventures of characters in series I have been reading, and meeting characters in series I haven't yet begun. This anthology provides me with opportunities for both.

     Each story in this anthology centers around footwear: boots in most of the stories, but shoes in two. Naturally, because this is paranormal fiction some of the boots and shoes have magical qualities. In other cases, the boots' owners have supernatural powers. On the whole, this is a strong anthology with well-told stories that can stand alone, even though some are set within the worlds of ongoing series.

     For me, the best story is Chris Marie Green's "The Girl with No Name." I also loved Lucienne Diver's "Parlor" and plan to begin reading that series ASAP. For some reason, I haven't read much of Shannon K. Butcher's work, but I enjoyed her story so much that I plan to rectify that situation right away. As always, Rachel Caine, Faith Hunter, Christine Henry, Kalayna Price, and Rob Thurman have produced high-quality, quirky tales.

             THE STORIES             

Rachel Caine: "Forked Tongues" (A Holly and Andrew story) (39 pages)

Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
First Line: "It wasn't the first time I'd woken up to a cross burning on my front lawn, but it was definitely not my favorite time, either."

     In this world, witches came out to the human world about a decade ago when two witches teamed up to solve a murder by temporarily resurrecting the victim so that he could tell the police exactly what happened to him (kind of like Anita Blake does in her necromancer role). Holly Caldwell, a resurrection witch, and Andrew (Andy) Toland, a potion witch and a survivor of the Zombie Wars, live together in the mostly human, mostly anti-witch world of Austin, Texas. One night, they are rudely awakened by a truck full of drunken witch haters burning a cross in their front yard. Not just a cross, though: Lying in front of the cross and held in place by a magic-infused knife, is a photograph of a murdered witch. 

    The story tells what happens when the witches confront the demonic man responsible—the man who wears the boots in this story. Here, Holly describes the man's cowboy boots as she sees them for the first time: "These were a working-man's boots, battered and scarred from years of hard use. They are brown, paled by the sun and water and wear. They gave me the oddest feeling as they walked into my house like snakes slithering over the threshold."

     This is an inventive mythology and a nicely paced short story. You can read more tales about Holly and Andrew in the anthologies Strange Brew and Hex Appeal. Based on this story, I'm planning to catch up with Holly and Andy in those stories.
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Shannon K. Butcher: "Stolen Goods"  (47 pages)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
First Line: "Simone Solange was reputed to be one of the world's best thieves, but after watching her walk into the cafe, Marcus Brighton guessed that men would simply give her whatever she wanted without her needing to steal a thing."   

     The villains in this mythology are the Fractogasts ("Fracs"), an alien species that comes from another realm: "They were easily nine feet tall. Spindly, with thin, reflective skin that showed off the structure of bones and tendons beneath. Their arms and legs were long, even for their frames, giving them a dangerous reach and leverage." The Fracs exist by sucking the souls from humans, turning them into zombie puppets that they use as mindless. but vicious, sentries to guard their facilities.

     Both Marcus and Simone have lost loved ones to the Fracs, so when Marcus asks Simone to help him steal a magical hammer that the Fracs are using to build a portal to their realm, she reluctantly agrees. The magical boots in this story are "deep red [leather] boots tooled with painstaking detail." These boots were handmade by Marcus, stolen from him by Simone, and can be used to make their wearer invisible.

     This is a fresh and inventive mythology, a bit more science fiction than fantasy, but with that dark, angst urban fantasy feel. I'd like to read more adventurous stories set in this world.
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Chris Marie Green: "The Girl with No Name"  (35 pages)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
First Line: "I woke up in a strange bed in a strange bedroom, and it took me only a few seconds to realize I had no idea where I was."

     The heroine of this story soon realizes that she is in New Orleans and that she is being hunted by a black, shadowy being with glowing red eyes. When she is able to run away at superhuman speed, she realizes that the strange boots she is wearing must be giving her magical power. Those boots are "made of…vines. A dark green mass of attractively entwined strands, wrapping round calves and feet, as if I had just now stepped off nature's catwalk." The story follows the heroine as she meets up with a possible ally and escapes to the bayous to ask assistance from a witch.

     This is a terrific story filled with scenes of simmering suspense and dramatic danger as the heroine learns the truth about the connection between her boots and her memory and begins, gradually, to recall past events that have put her life in jeopardy. Let's hope that the author picks this up as a series.
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Faith Hunter: "The Devil's Left Boot" (set in the JANE YELLOWROCK world) (40 pages)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
The sisters set their price: "We can try. Trying is a flat fee of a thousand. Success is another two thousand. Nonnegotiable….And…if we get your mom back, the fee is required, no matter what shape your mom is in."  

    In this story, almost everyone wears boots, but one pair becomes the key to resolving a dangerous situation: "Christian Louboutin, a five-inch spike-heeled black suede boot with fringe down the back seam. Size six and a half." The heroines are Liz and Cia Everhart, twin-sister witches who are still grieving for their sister, Evangelina, who was killed by Jane Yellowrock after she became terminally addicted to demonic power. The sisters and their human siblings run a restaurant called Seven Sassy Sisters Cafe and Herb Shop. One day, their nemesis from back in high school asks for their help in finding her missing mother. Mean-girl Layla claims that her mother disappeared without a trace from her luxurious home without leaving a note or any other evidence as to where she went. Grudgingly, the girls take the case, primarily because they desperately need the money.

     When Cia and Liz examine Mom's bedroom, they find evidence of blood magic of the darkest kind. Eventually, they unravel a bizarre mystery that involves the local vampires and Jane Yellowrock herself.

     Even if you aren't a reader of the series, you'll still enjoy this story because Hunter has made the twins such interesting individuals and has woven an intricate plot. Hunter does refer to previous events in the JANE YELLOWROCK series, but she provides enough information to make those references understandable to the first-time reader. 
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Chloe Neill: "High Stakes" (39 pages) (a CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES story)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
First Line: "It was the curls that killed me."

     This is a Luc and Lindsey story that is set in the CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES world. Luc is Captain of the Cadigan House guards, and Lindsey is one of his sentries, as well as his lover. When an intruder leaves a bloody photograph and a brutal deathtrap in the apartment of Lindsey's niece (well…great-great-niece), Lindsey realizes that her past has caught up with her and that she must return to New York City, the scene of a great tragedy in her life. As Lindsey's adventure plays out, we get a nice piece of Lindsey's backstory—one that explains her aversion to commitment and trust.

     This is a solid story except for Lindsey's initial reaction to the situation. In a blindingly stupid TSTL moment, she refuses Luc's help and immediately takes off alone on a dangerous and deadly mission. The story follows Lindsey as she discovers that events in her past did not evolve as she thought they did and that a past mistake has come back to hauntand possibly killher.

     The boots in this story are incidental to the plot. They are "Buttery black leather, nearly knee-high, with pointy toes and stiletto heels long and thin enough to be weapons on their own." They are a gift from Luc to Lindsey, and she doesn't want to accept them because that would mean that they actually have a romantic relationship. After the two exchange some dialogue during which Lindsey denies having relationship issues, he responds, "You're a walking issue."

     For me, Lindsey's naivety in going off alone towards unknown dangers is a real turn-off. Fine…we realize that she has trust issues, but, really, when your combat-skilled, big, strong boyfriend offers to help you vanquish an enemy, do you really slap your hand on your chest and proclaim, "This isn't about you. It's about me"? Another problem is that the villain obviously (and illogically) places all the blame on Lindsey, while maintaining a good relationship with the man she knows was personally responsible for her pain and misery. (I realize that you won't understand that last sentence before you read the story, but I can't say more without including a spoiler. Anyhow, you'll see what I mean once you read the book.)

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from this story. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in the CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES series.
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Lucienne Diver: "The Parlor"  (30 pages) (set in the world of the LATTER-DAY OLYMPIANS series)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
First Line: "Tell me again how on earth you got talked into wearing booty shorts…."

     Tori has the power to freeze a person or creature in its tracksbut only for a few moments. She is a private investigator who is working a job in which a wife suspects that her husband is cheating on her. In order to track him down, Tori gets a job at the club the husband has been frequenting. When she meets the mysterious female owner of the club, Tori asks her frenemy, Apollo (that would be Apollo, the sun god) for some assistance. Apollo has helped Tori out in the past, and he agrees to help her out on this case. The problem is that Apollo wants just one thing in returnTori's affections, but Tori already has a boyfriend, a human police detective. Tori and Apollo have been walking a tightrope of innuendo and simmering sensuality ever since they met.  

     The boots in this story are part of Tori's waitress uniform at the club: "knee-high boots with their three-and-a-half-inch Plexiglas stiletto hells and the rest in a silver so shiny I could blind passing motorists."

     The identity of the villain is instantly obvious, and there are enough clues to figure out exactly who and what he or she is, but the ending is creepily climactic, and the resolution is satisfying. One major editorial error comes when Tori quotes some lines from Shakespeare's famous "All the world's a stage…" monologue and attributes them to Macbeth. Sorry, but those lines are from As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII).

     The Tori-Apollo relationship begins percolating in Rise of the Blood, the third book in the LATTER-DAY OLYMPIANS series (which I have not yet read, but have added to my to-read list based on this story).
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Christina Henry: "Red Isn't Really My Color"  (from BLACK WINGS series; takes place between Black Night and Black Howl) (32 pages)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
First Line: "The envelope sat in the middle of my dining room table."

     That envelope has been sent by Lucifer, Madeline Black's great-great+++ grandfather, and he wants Madeline to retrieve a pair of magical red shoes that force their wearer to dance without stopping...foreverto death and beyond. So…no boots in this story, just "a pair of red satin ballet slippers, just like the red shoes in that old movie about the dancer." 

     The shoes are currently in the possession of one of the faerie queen's emissaries who just happens to be in town at the moment, so Madeline and Beezle (her gargoyle companion) head out to steal the shoes. The story follows their adventure as Madeline is forced to dip into her dark powers once again to save herself, once more putting her soul at rick. This is a typical Maddie-Beezle exploit with lots of Beezle humor and plenty of risky business for Madeline.  

     Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in the BLACK WINGS series.
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Rob Thurman: "Snakeskin"  (27 pages) (ten-year prequel to the TRICKSTER series)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
First Line:  "There're all sorts of sayings about shoes."

When an attractive, wealthy widow comes to Trixa for help, Trixa immediately recognizes her as a liar: "She told the best liesa dark slice of night sky wrapped in a dazzling blanket of moonshine glitter. She was my kind of people and I'd known it…" Trixa is a liar herselfas well as a human lie detector. She is also a trickster. During her six thousand years of life she has played that role in many cultures. Currently, she has taken the form of an attractive 31-year-old woman who owns a bar in Las Vegas where she spends her time dispensing information and magical assistance. Suffice to say that although Trixa gives her client exactly what she asks for, the situation doesn't end as the client imagined it would. 

     This story's magical boots are hand-made, multicolored snakeskin: "The scales lay so flat you could barely see them as anything that had ever been separate from one another except for the color. Every color that existed was there. It was…a subtle watercolor wash that shimmered in a milky opal cascade."

     If you have enjoyed Thurman's earlier TRICKSTER novels, this will be a nostalgic read because it describes how Trixa meets Griffin and Zeke and provides some background information on Trixa's mysterious bartender, Leo. The story also provides a sampling of Trixa's stream-of-consciousness, first-person voice
the same voice that narrates the novels. I'm hoping that more TRICKSTER novels are on the way.

     Click HERE to read my reviews of the first two novels in the TRICKSTER series.
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Kalayna Price: "Ruby Red"  (a Darque Files story set in the ALEX CRAFT world) (37 pages)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
First Line: "I shucked my singed jacket and dropped it on the cheap hotel carpet."

     This is a world in which witches live openly among humans. Partners Briar Darque and Derrick Knight are investigators for the Magical Crimes Investigation Bureau (MCIB). Briar is a talented witch, while Derrick's skills are premonition and clairvoyance. When reports come in about mysterious shadowy creatures that leave their victims comatose, Briar heads out to see what she can do to identify the shadow beings and get rid of them. When the partners discover that witchcraft is involved, they work together to solve the case.  

     For the second time in this anthology, the footwear is not boots, but shoes. This pair is worn by a waitress in the local diner: "They were bright red with four-inch, pencil-thin heels, and they didn't match her uniform."

    This story takes place between Grave Dance and Grave Memory, the second and third novels in the ALEX CRAFT series. I'm not sure if DARQUE FILES is going to be a new series or if this is just a single, stand-alone story, but I'm hoping for a series. In any case, this is a great story, with the same inventive mythology and interesting characters that work so well in the excellent ALEX CRAFT series. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in that series.
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