In #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris’s story, “Playing Possum,” Sookie Stackhouse brings enough birthday cupcakes for her nephew’s entire class but finds she’s one short when the angry ex-boyfriend of the school secretary shows up.
When her guardian, Kate Daniels, sends her undercover to a school for exceptional children, teenaged Julie learns an all-new definition of “exceptional,” in New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews’s “Magic Tests.”
For those who like fangs with their forensics, New York Times bestselling author Nancy Holder offers “VSI,” in which FBI agent Claire is tested as never before in a school for Vampire Scene Investigation.
And in New York Times bestselling author Thomas Sniegoski’s “The Bad Hour,” Remy Chandler and his dog Marlowe find evil unleashed in an obedience school. You’ll need more than an apple to stave off the creatures in these and nine other stories. Remember your first lesson: resistance is fruitless!
Includes stories by: ILONA ANDREWS, AMBER BENSON, RHYS BOWEN, MIKE CAREY, CHARLAINE HARRIS, DONALD HARSTAD, STEVE HOCKENSMITH, NANCY HOLDER, FAITH HUNTER, TONI L.P. KELNER, MARJORIE LIU, JONATHAN MABERRY, and THOMAS SNIEGOSKI.
Christal’s Review – 3 Skulls – C+
The anthologies edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner combine top authors from many different genres with a specific paranormal theme. This time the theme was school and it produced some unique and interesting stories. I think these anthologies are some of the best in paranormal fiction, but this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me. There were some truly exceptional stories in this volume, but they were outnumbered by the less successful or mediocre entries. While none of the stories were complete failures, I expected the school theme to produce stories that were either much more fun or had a creepier vibe than the ones that were included. Below you will find a short description of each story and some of my thoughts concerning it.
Playing Possum CHARLAINE HARRIS | ✩✩✩
This is the story set in the world of the Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie is visiting her “nephew” Hunter at school for a classroom party. When the party is interrupted by the secretary’s crazed boyfriend, it will take quick thinking from Sookie and Hunter’s teacher to get everyone out safely. I liked the interaction between Sookie and Hunter, but this story lacked tension and didn’t really add anything to the main Sookie storyline. Readers of the series can skip this one with no worries.
Spellcaster 2.0 JONATHAN MABERRY | ✩✩✩
Trey LaSalle and his fellow grad students create Spellcaster, a research project archiving all known magic spells with the secondary goal of creating the perfect generic spell. Perhaps the scientists shouldn’t be so sure that these incantations aren’t real. The story had a slow start but I actually enjoyed it until the ending. The way it concluded didn’t fit with the rest of the story.
Academy Field Trip DONALD HARSTAD | ✩✩✩
A group of law enforcement agents have been called together to learn advanced forensic techniques. Little does on recruit know that she will soon be exposed to the world of vampires. I liked the twist ending of this story, but the tone was very stark and I didn’t connect with any of the characters. This actually might have worked better in a longer format, at least novella length.
Sympathy for the Bones MARJORIE M. LIU | ✩✩✩✩✩
A young girl with very deadly powers must free her soul from the witch who raised her. I enjoy Ms. Lui’s Hunter Kiss series, but I always love seeing her short stories as she never writes about the same thing twice. I was a little apprehensive at the beginning of this one, but it soon captivated me just like her previous stories. It was creepy and slightly uncomfortable and I would love to learn more about this world.
Low School RHYS BOWEN | ✩✩
Amy Weinstein finds herself in a new school and completely unprepared for what the day brings. She has to figure out how to survive her new school and why exactly she is there in the first place. This story didn’t work for me because I hated the character of Amy. I didn’t feel any sympathy for her and saw the outcome coming from a mile away.
Callie Meet Happy AMBER BENSON | ✩✩
Features Callie, from author Amber Benson’s Calliope Reaper-Jones series. When a class demonstration of wormhole travel goes awry, Callie helps new friends thwart a foe in an alternate reality. As much as I liked watching Amber Benson on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I just didn’t connect with this story. I didn’t feel like Callie was integral to the outcome in the alternate reality and everything seemed to work out much too easily.
Iphigenia in Aulis MIKE CAREY | ✩✩✩✩✩
A captivating tale of children in a unique school situation in a post-apocalyptic world. I loved this story; it was amazing how Mr. Carey was able to create such a well-developed world in so few words. The characters were unique and little Melanie just pulls at your heart strings. I would absolutely love to know more about this world and Melanie.
Golden Delicious FAITH HUNTER | ✩✩✩✩
This story takes place in the Skinwalker series, after Raven Cursed, and between the short story in the e-compilation Cat Tales and Death’s Rival. Features PsyLed triumvirate trainees: Rick, a were-leopard; Brute, a werewolf stuck in his animal form; and Pea, a grindylow. I’ve only read the first book in the Skinwalker series and I really didn’t care much for Rick. This story made him interesting and sympathetic. I would like to learn more about his investigative trio and especially his mentor, Soul.
Magic Tests ILONA ANDREWS | ✩✩✩✩✩
This story is set in the Kate Daniels world and takes place after Magic Slays. The story is told from Julie’s point of view. Julie scopes out a new school by solving the mystery of a missing girl. Though this story had more of a YA tone than the parent series, I really enjoyed hearing Julie’s POV. The mystery was interesting, Julie knew her limits and handled herself well, and there was an interesting supporting cast around her. Do I smell a YA spin-off? It would be completely feasible if that were the outcome of this wonderful short.
An Introduction to Jewish Myth and Mysticism STEVE HOCKENSMITH | ✩✩
A tongue-in-cheek take on a love triangle involving an abusive boyfriend and ‘The Wandering Jew.’ This story was fairly humorous but I would have liked to learn more about the Wandering Jew. I came into this story knowing nothing about the legend and I still feel like I don’t have much of a grip on it.
VSI NANCY HOLDER | ✩✩✩
This story was similar to the previous FBI-centered short. A group of FBI agents have been brought together to learn about vampire forensics, but things get way more personal for FBI agent Claire. I liked the twist at the end, but found I didn’t connect with the characters. Claire should have been easy to sympathize with, but I found her characterization flat.
The Bad Hour THOMAS E. SNIEGOSKI | ✩✩✩✩
This story was set in the world of Remy Chandler and his dog Marlowe. The two face an unknown evil at a canine obedience school. I haven’t read anything from this series, but Mr. Sniegoski’s story was interesting enough that I am eager to try out his novels. The character of Remy seems to have a very twisty past and his companion Marlowe adds a lightness to the story.
Pirate Dave and the Captain’s Ghost TONI L.P. KELNER | ✩✩
This is the second short story featuring Joyce and her beau, Pirate Dave; “Pirate Dave’s Haunted Amusement Park” was published in the Harris/Kelner anthology Death’s Excellent Vacation. This one was a light PNR story and, while cute, it didn’t have much depth and the villain’s actions seemed to come out of nowhere.
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