Friday, December 25, 2009

Have a Furry Christmas!

Let’s face it- the holidays can bring out the beast in anyone. They are particularly hard if you’re a lycanthrope. Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner have harvested the scariest, funniest, saddest werewolf tales, by an outstanding pack of authors, best read by the light of a full moon and with a silver bullet close at hand.

Whether wolfing down a holiday feast (use your imagination) or craving some hair of the dog on New Year’s morning, the werewolves in these and eleven more frighteningly original stories will surprise, delight, amuse, and scare the pants of readers who love a little wolfsbane with their mistletoe.

Title: Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
Editor: Charlaine Harris & Toni L.P. Kelner
Start & Finished: 12/12/09-12/23/09
Published: October 7, 2008
Publisher: ACE
Pages: 340 (total)
Genre: Anthology-Paranormal/ Christmas

With the success of the birthday/ vampire themed anthology Many Bloody Returns, Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner decided to do another themed anthology with stories contributed by authors from various genres. After batting around a few ideas (zombies and Arbor Day for one), it was decided that the theme for their latest anthology would be called Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (ironically both poisonous plants). As you can probably concur from the title, the stories featured within are about werewolves and Christmas. A werewolf is not a “big, fluffy puppy with bad teeth” and though some of these authors have never published paranormal before, none make the mistake of making the Weres cuddly creatures.

Vamps and birthdays? And now Weres and Christmas? What will these ladies think of next? Mummies and Valentine’s Day? Somehow it wouldn’t surprise me a bit and I can already see the title: All Wrapped Up in You. Both of these anthologies are odd (yet incredibly unique) ideas but they inspired some great authors to contribute incredibly fun stories. Some are just set around Christmas, some add to well-established Christmas legends, and a few even twist those legends but all were amazingly good.


Title: Gift Wrap
Author: Charlaine Harris
Pages: 18

In New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris’s “Gift Wrap,” Sookie Stackhouse is all alone for Christmas and feeling mighty sorry for herself, until she has an unexpected encounter with someone who has bigger problems than loneliness.

Sookie Stackhouse; the heroine of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mystery series (which recently became the hit HBO show True Blood) is having a boring Christmas Eve in Gift Wrap thinking about how alone she is, when she decides she needs “a mission, a project, a task, [or] a diversion.” She got just that when she comes across a “naked, bleeding, muddy” man in her woods named Preston. After helping him to safety, Sookie decides to keep him safe when his attackers come back for him. Since she enjoys protecting and helping people this is a perfect tailored Christmas gift for her!

It isn’t necessary to have read any of the books in the series to enjoy Gift Wrap though there are a few slight spoilers to show where the story takes place (probably right after From Dead to Worse, the eighth book). I thought that this was one of the oddest short stories I’ve ever read by Charlaine Harris (I actually discovered her books via an anthology several years ago) but I did enjoy learning a tiny bit more about the fae and Sookie’s grandfather that are only a recent addition to the series. Preston is pretty much a throwaway character that we’ll never see again but I did think he was better than some of Sookie’s previous beaus.

First Paragraph: It was Christmas Eve. I was all by myself.


Title: The Haire of the Beast
Author: Donna Andrews
Pages: 7

An unnamed girl agrees to translate a spell for her brother Tom to turn into a werewolf but decides to take it for a test run on her ex-boyfriend first because “if the spell didn’t work, the powder would give him only a few stomach cramps,… and if it did work, it wouldn’t be Tom hauled in by Animal Control and maybe waking up in a cage.” The Haire of the Beast is the first paranormal story by the mystery writer Donna Andrews; she is the author of two series: The Meg Langslow stories and the Turing Hopper.

Revenge is a dish best served… furry. The Haire of the Best was a really fun story! Ms. Andrews had never published a paranormal story before but she did a great job with this one. It still “sounded” like her since it took a more academic approach to the werewolf thing. So far as I know it’s not related to her series characters at all though I think it would be something Meg would find amusing!

First Sentence: “Why on earth would you want to be a werewolf?” I asked.

Title: Lucy, at Christmastime
Author: Simon R. Green
Pages: 4

Sitting and “drinking wormwood brandy in Strangefellows, the oldest bar in the world,” Leo Morn sits talking to the same person as he does every year on Christmas Eve, his Lucy. Simon R. Green’s Lucy, at Christmastime is the shortest story contributed to the Wolfsbane and Mistletoe collection.

Mr. Green is a new author for me so I’d like to know if the world featured in Lucy, at Christmastime is one from this author’s various series because it seemed really neat with the fairies, the demon girl reporter, and various others. This story honestly couldn’t be longer than four pages because it’s so sad and upsetting. I really only enjoyed the descriptions of that world’s inhabitants (especially Rudolph who is “lying slumped and extremely drunk in a corner, muttering something about unionization.”) which is why I’d like to try a book by this author some day.

First Sentence: You never forget your first; and mine was Lucy.


Title: The Night Things Changed
Author: Dana Cameron
Pages: 27

Brother and sister, werewolf and vampire respectively and as the rest of their kind the Fangborn do, each work to save the world from evil. In The Night Things Changed however, the new evil they are hunting just happens to be something new that they aren’t quite prepared to deal with… Dana Cameron is the author of the Emma Fielding archaeological mysteries and is a professional archaeologist herself.

The world building that Dana Cameron does in so short amount of time is really astonishing. The werewolves and the vamps in The Night Things Changed are called Fangborn, also known as “Pandora’s Orphans, the ones the ancients called ‘Hope,’ supposedly trapped at the bottom of the box.” However, according to the actual Fangborn legends, “the first Fangborn got out, and it’s a good thing they did too, for when evil is released into the world, so was means of destroying it. Vampires and werewolves, the first to clean the blood and ease the pain, the second to remove irredeemable evil when [they] find it.” I really wasn’t prepared for this story since I have actually read a book by this author before and didn’t enjoy it very much. I can tell you that if she ever decided to switch from mystery to paranormal, she definitely could!

First Paragraph: I pounded up the stairs to the roof and slammed open the door; the wintry air lashed my face. My sister the vampire was stretched out on her stomach, nearly naked, under the pale December sun.

Title: The Werewolf Before Christmas
Author: Kat Richardson
Pages: 22

He knows when you’ve been naughty, he knows when you’ve been nice and Matthias is definitely on the naughty list this year! After chowing down on Rudolph, Mattie finds himself leading Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve and using his keen werewolf sense of smell since his nose isn’t so bright… completely against his will though. He might as well be related to Ebenezer Scrooge! The Werewolf Before Christmas is Kat Richardson’s first werewolf story though the heroine of her Greywalker paranormal detective series has come up against some other creatures that go bump in the night.

The author did a fair bit of research on old Kris Kringle/Father Christmas/Saint Nicholas (among many other names he goes by that make it into the story) and managed to incorporate those little nuggets throughout the story yet Richardson manages not to get too bogged down with details either. The idea of a werewolf leading Santa’s sleigh could have made this story into a comedy but it really wasn’t and that’s what makes it so unique. I’ve read the first book in Richardson’s Greywalker series and though I really loved it I still haven’t gotten around to picking any of the others up. Thanks to this great short story I might be doing that sooner rather than later.

First Sentence: ‘Twas the night before Christmas- well, the late afternoon, in fact, but who could tell at the North Pole in the middle of winter- and Matthias the werewolf was knee-deep in reindeer guts.

Title: Fresh Meat
Author: Alan Gordon
Pages: 27

Someone is hunting werewolves this Christmas and has found one in guard dog trainer Sam Lehrmann… they didn’t count on his close connection with his canines though! Alan Gordan is the author of the Fools' Guild Mystery series and Fresh Meat was his first werewolf story. He has said that he has plans for writing a book with these characters soon.

Stories about dogs that act almost human have always fascinated me which is why I wasn’t at all surprised with how much I enjoyed Fresh Meat. I had never even heard of this author before but I was impressed with how easily the story flowed since he keeps you guessing right up until the very end. This wasn’t even a mystery yet everything is revealed in increments.

First Paragraph: “Your order is ready, Mister Lehrmann,” called Bert, emerging from the back room wiping his hands on a bloody towel. “Two sides of beef, so fresh they were mooing yesterday.”

Title: Il Est Ne`
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Pages: 27

In New York Times bestselling author Carrie Vaughn's "Il Est Ne'," Kitty is stuck spending Christmas alone in a Waffle House, until she ends up playing Christmas angel to a brand-new werewolf. But when dead bodies start to stack up like pancakes, she has to decide if he's been nice or very naughty.

Carrie Vaughn is the author of the Kitty Norville series which is about a werewolf who happens to be a radio talk show host and Il Est Ne’ takes place right before the third book Kitty Takes a Holiday. Her holiday this year isn’t very jolly but she does get to do what she does best- help someone. Even if there is no place like home for the holidays, Kitty helps make being on the road bearable.

The Kitty books are among my favorite werewolf series to date so I was very excited to see a story by her included in the collection. Besides Patricia Briggs and Charlaine Harris, she’s the reason why I wanted to read Wolfsbane and Mistletoe in the first place. This was a great little story that has no real bearing on the actual series but yet fits entirely in that world so it makes a great read while waiting for the next book in the Kitty series to come out.

First Paragraph: Hugging himself, shivering, David curled up under the reaching bows of a pine tree. A moonlit drift of snow glowed silver just a few feet away, outside his shelter. More snow was falling, and he was naked. If he simply relaxed, he wouldn’t be that cold. But he was afraid. More afraid every time this happened.

Title: The Perfect Gift
Author: Dana Stabenow
Pages: 13

This isn’t the first short story by Dana Stabenow I’ve read since she contributed to the anthology And the Dying is Easy but like a few other authors’ in this anthology The Perfect Gift is her first story with a werewolf in it. Set in her home state of Alaska (just like all of her work), there have been several killings that look like they were done by animals when Detectives Lobison and Romanov get a tip that will lead one of them into a whole new world.

Another fairly short story, also with serial killers in it, The Perfect Gift wasn’t a very noteworthy addition to the collection. I did find the beginning interesting, especially when I re-read it after I finished the story but there isn’t very much concentration on that. It’s a pity Stabenow didn’t play that part up a little because I felt like this story ended a bit too abruptly.

First Sentence: “They’re overgrazing their range.”

Title: Christmas Past
Author: Keri Arthur
Pages: 25

In “Christmas Past,” by New York Times bestselling author Keri Arthur, Hannah gets an unmerry-- and possibly life-threatening-- Christmas present when the hunky werewolf who dumped her last Christmas Eve turns up as her partner on a hunt for a vampire serial killer.

There is a vampire out there sucking Christmas donation collectors dry in the story Christmas Past and it has caught the attention of the Para-investigations squad. Hannah's a human who can sense evil and her partner on this case just happens to be her ex. While staking out for the vamp and reminding herself constantly, "No. He's bad for our health and we don't like him, remember?" Poor Hannah has got it rough this year!

The best thing about anthologies is getting a small taste of an author’s work to whet your appetite for more and that’s exactly what happened when I read Christmas Past. I vaguely remember hearing about Keri Arthur here and there but now I certainly know what the fuss is about! By the second page I was already invested in these characters, so much so that I thought for sure that they had their own series. Unfortunately that’s not the case but there is several other series she has written that have the same elements in it.

First Sentence: Normally, I love Christmas.

Title: SA
Author: J. A. Konrath
Pages: 40

The longest story in this collection, J.A. Konrath’s SA is of course about a werewolf who is just finding out what he is and that he’s been eating bad people but also about a group of therianthropes (humans who morph into animals such as a boar, a cheetah, a tortoise, and even coral) too. Oh and “Kris Kringle and his magic red suit are using Satan’s Claws- which became Santa Claus over time- to kill therianthropes with the help of… the Salvation Army.”

SA started off extremely gross but it got much more interesting pretty fast and though it was mostly a silly story I still found parts of it funny. Other parts were a bit ridiculous but on the whole… no, it was still ridiculous. I still have to give credit for it being the most original, if slightly out there story in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe though.

First Sentence: Robert Weston Smith walked across the snow-covered parking lot carrying a small plastic container of his poop.

Title: The Star of David
Author: Patricia Briggs
Pages: 28

#1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs’s lone wolf David Christiansen mends fences with his daughter and gives a young man an unusual Christmas gift he’s sure never to forget in “The Star of David.”

Author of the Mercedes Thompson series Patricia Briggs has written a wonderfully interesting story starring a minor character from her first Mercy book in The Star of David. David is a werewolf that is estranged from his daughter when one of the kids that her foster agency placed has a bit of a problem and she only knows of one person to call… papa.

Patricia Briggs’ Mercy and Alpha & Omega books are both some of my absolute favorite paranormal series which is why I was so eager to read her story in this collection. It’s been awhile since I read Moon Called but I still remembered David from it. I’m so glad that she decided to explore his character further and if she ever decides to write another series about the werewolf mercenary I’ll be one of the first in line to pick them up.

First Paragraph: “I checked them out myself,” Myra snapped. “Have you ever just considered that your boy isn’t the angel you thought he was?”

Title: You’d Better Not Pyout
Author: Nancy Pickard
Pages: 22

Nancy Pickard is another mystery author who has never written about the supernatural before contributing her story You’d Better Not Pyout. In it, two Russian vampires decide that Santa Claus must be a vampire himself and go to the North Pole to get set up for life only things don’t exactly go their way…

The werewolf in this story was more interesting than the vampires in my opinion but it seemed like she had a smaller part. This was another evil Santa story but I liked it a whole lot more than the others because the idea of a vampire Santa actually makes sense. A very interesting take on the Santa myth so well done Ms. Pickard!

First Sentence: “I’m telling you,” Pasha argued, “it explains everything.”

Title: Rogue Elements
Author: Karen Chance
Pages: 34

In Karen Chance’s Rogue Elements someone is kidnapping werewolves, and not just any wolves at that: every one is the daughter of an important clan leader. Desperate to find his daughter, Sebastian Arnou does the unthinkable: he goes to the War Mage Corps, and although they agree to help, few have much experience with Weres. The exception is disgraced war mage Lia de Croissets, whose mother happened to be a high ranking member of an important Were clan. Someone with a werewolf mother isn’t much trusted by the Corps, and a mage with a human father is equally suspect as far as the clans are concerned. But her knowledge of Were customs and her background in human magic make Lia unmistakably the best person for the job. Whether they will be enough to keep her alive is another matter.

This was a surprisingly complex short story that feels a bit like a novel and I enjoyed every second of it. I’m not sure if this world relates to Karen Chance’s two series or not but I’ve been wanting to try her books for awhile now and I think I may just have to do that soon. If she manages to make a short story so detailed I can only imagine what a full-length novel would be like. Rogue Elements was easily one of the best stories in the collection.

First Paragraph: “There’s no such thing as a half werewolf,” I said, trying not to growl. I’d been dreading this conversation for six months. It figured my boss would wait until now to bring it up. Way to ruin my Christmas Eve.

Title: Milk and Cookies
Author: Rob Thurman
Pages: 19

The first young adult story in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe is Rob Thurman’s Milk and Cookies and it’s the story about a thirteen year old boy dealing with a bully around the holidays. He’s also trying to make his little sister’s Christmas a happy one too.

A slightly disturbing story but I still liked it and I had a feeling I knew what the big twist was all along too. Still, it was quite a bit different from most of the stories included in this collection. I almost hesitate calling this a “young adult” story since it does feel a bit younger than that but only at times since the main character Nicky is a bit older than his years. This was the first time I had ever even heard of this author before but I’m a bit curious now so I may pick up the first in her Cal and Niko Leandros series.

First Sentence: Christmas sucked.

Title: Keeping Watch Over His Flock
Author: Toni L.P. Kelner
Pages: 18

A recent contributor to the paranormal world with her vampire short story in Many Bloody Returns and the co-editor of Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, Toni L. P. Kelner takes her first stab at writing about werewolves in Keeping Watch Over His Flock and what a stab it is! This is the only other young adult story where the teen in it is spending Christmas with the Alpha of his new pack when a young girl goes missing in town.

There was so much I loved about Keeping Watch Over His Flock such as Dogwarts (yes, like Hogwarts only for werewolves and no, that’s not the official name), the fact that though it takes practice the wolves can change into just about anything and I really loved the pack’s story of the first werewolf and how it tied into the traditional Christmas story too. Easily one of my favorite stories in the whole collection so it’s fitting that Wolfsbane and Mistletoe ends on a high note.

First Paragraph: Maybe half the members of the pack were in wolf form, with the others still human, and Jake wasn’t sure which he would rather look at- the bared teeth or the stern frowns. So instead he aimed his answers at the Christmas tree with its twinkling lights. There was something unreal about having his whole life decided in front of a Christmas tree, but that’s what happened when you broke virtually all of a werewolf pack’s rules on Christmas Eve.



Picture Explanations
Shotgun: Sookie protects Preston. “ ‘Oooo, I’m scared,’ said the Man Mountain in an assumed falsetto. But as I swung open the front door and he got a look at the shotgun, I could see that he truly did look as if he was having second thoughts. Good.”
Brownies: The girl in the story puts the concoction into brownies and leaves them on her ex-boyfriend’s porch.
Bar: The setting of the story
T-Shirt: Claudia wears this in her story
Bishop of Myra: Also known as Santa Claus among other things is one of the main characters in this story.
Doberman: The main character trains all kinds of guard dogs, this is Waldo.
Waffle House: Kitty meets a new werewolf at a Waffle House
Wolf: The werewolves are out on Christmas Eve
Elf Shoe: Hannah dresses up as a donation elf to catch the killer and she really hates the shoes!
Salvation Army: The helpers of the evil Santa Claus
Wolf: David in wolf form “the perfect killing machine covered with four-inch-deep, red-gold fur.” African Wild Dog: A pack of these take Ingrid in as a baby when her parents abandoned her after learning that she is a werewolf.
Christmas in Front of the Fire: There is a really important scene that takes place at a Christmas party.
Cookies: Nicky’s little sister still believes in Santa.
Rudolph: He doesn’t guide Santa’s sleigh in this one!

11 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed the book, Jen!

    Though in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that this isn't the first paranormal story I've had published--though it is the first to appear in an anthology NOT edited by Dana Stabenow. See THE MYSTERIOUS NORTH (Signet 2002), POWERS OF DETECTION (Ace 2004), and UNUSUAL SUSPECTS (Ace 2008). The first two are out of print but available used, and all three are available in Kindle format.

    Donna Andrews

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  2. Even though I haven't gotten into werewolves yet, I think this is a great idea! I'm glad to see it's well done.

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  3. Sounds cool!
    I love werewolves so I might check it out!!!

    :D

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  4. This sounds like a fun collection of stories. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on them with us, Jen!

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  5. Donna Andrews: Thank you so much for all your wonderful stories! I plan on getting caught up with your Meg series in 2010. I didn't know that, I'll have to check it out!

    Bermudaonion: I'm still not overly crazy about weres but there are some good stories about them out there.

    AnimeGirl: Hope you do!

    Wendy: It was a fun anthology. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy reviewing them!

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  6. Some of the first paragraphs are enough to scare me. LOL.
    Thanks for this fun post.

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  7. Wow - interesting post! Hope your weekend is going well! :)

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  8. Wisteria: Me too lol. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Sheila (Bookjourney): Thanks and I hope you had a great one as well!

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  9. This looks like a great anthology. I should try to get ahold of it for next year.

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  10. I read this earlier in the year because of the Patricia Briggs story. I didn't buy it, but now I sort of imagine I will...

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  11. That story collection looks good. I may have to add it to my list for next year.

    Sorry I didn't make it over here before Xmas. I've been out of town in lower Alabama so I haven't had easy Internet access.

    Hope you had a great Xmas and your New Year is awesome.

    Pax

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