Holidays Are Hell by Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Marjorie M. Liu, and Vicki Pettersson

Holidays Are Hell
Kim Harrison

I reviewed the first of these anthologies, Dates from Hell over here. This is the second one which is in the same vein as the first – urban fantasy, some paranormal romance going on, with an added holiday theme.

For the most part I liked this anthology better than the first one. I think it was all on the "good!" side except for one story.

"Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel" by Kim Harrison. In Dates from Hell we got a story about Ivy set before she meets Rachel, and in this story, we get a story about a young teen-aged Rachel before she ever joins Inderland Security. I thought this was well done because you don't have to have read the Rachel Morgan books to understand the world (much less confusing than the story in Dates from Hell), plus there are a lot of new things to learn for those who read those series. We learn about Rachel's family dynamics, and about Rachel's reasons for joining IS. I was also surprised to see how different Rachel is physically in this short story than what I was used to seeing in the series, but her stubbornness and trying to do things seemingly beyond her abilities seems very familiar.

"Run, Run, Rudolf" by Lynsay Sands. If you look at the link to the first anthology, and check out the "Claire Switch Project", this is a continuation of that short story. A couple of scientists gets zapped by a "destabilizer ray" that allows them to shapeshift if they concentrate really hard. I thought that story was goofy and I think this continuation is equally so. The scientists from the first story rebuild the ray in their basement and the same mad scientist from before (John Heathcliffe) zaps Jill with it. The characters sound like caricatures, and because Jill's keeps losing concentration during shapeshifting, she keeps conveniently being naked in public and flashing the man she's interested in (at least three times!). I rolled my eyes a lot. I have checked out reviews from this book and surprisingly this was many people's favorite story so I don't know.. I may be crazy or something when I say this was my least favorite of the bunch and it did not fit in with the rest of them.

"Six" by Marjorie M. Liu. I think this one is a stand alone, unconnected to an outside series, and it manages to have great world-building, action, characters, and plot in a short space. Six is a elite Chinese agent trying to track down terrorists when she stumbles upon the paranormal – vampires – not the western myth I'm used to reading about, but the Chinese version – Jiang Shi. This was a refreshing twist. When I was a kid and camping for the first time, a Singaporean boy scared me to death telling me about the Jiang Shi. I couldn't sleep all night imaging them hopping over to kill me! Seriously – cold sweats. Anyway, Six also meets a man named Joseph who fights these vampires, and who has some special abilities and they start working together. Possibly my favorite of the bunch because I liked the setting – urban China. Liu has several romance novels out but I really like her urban fantasy. I also enjoyed her short story in the Wild Thing anthology – that one was about a woman with living tattoos over her body which protect her but will eventually kill her, and that's going to be a series called Hunter Kiss.

"The Harvest" by Vicki Pettersson – Another one based in the world where a series is set. This is the story of Zoe Archer – the mother of the protagonist in the Signs of the Zodiac series, Joanna Archer. I thought this was a great side story to go with the series which fills us in on the motivation of Zoe's mother as well as learning about her personality and how she was able to do what she did. But, if you haven't read this series, I'm not sure how lost you would be reading this story. It's possible the answer is – quite lost. Though there are several hints that explain the world, the Zodiac world is very complex so it's hard for me to say how confused someone would be. Definitely a must-read for a Zodiac series fan though.

P.S. This one shall be tagged with my butt shot cover tag. I'm not a fan of the shoes on this cover but ok, it's holiday-related. Also – I noticed that this cover is so similar to another Kim Harrison cover – For a Few Demons More the mass market paperback (same pose – woman in dress walking with knife on the left side of the cover). Odd.

My TBR is around 120. Eek?

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Dates from Hell by Harrison, Sands, Armstrong and Handeland

Dates From Hell
Kim Harrison

I've been having one of those slow months where I don't really feel like reading anything I have. This is bad since my TBR pile is at 104..sigh.. oh wait.. I won 4 books so its 108, SIGH (ok - not really if I think about it, I won, weee!). To solve this, I got the Dates from Hell anthology. I like short stories when I'm in a reading slow-down because I can read a complete story then take a break and it feels like less to commit to than a whole 300 page book. And sometimes it means I find an author I never tried before that I really like, which gets me all excited to find their books: thats a win-win.

This anthology turned out to be OK. I guess one of the downsides sometimes to short stories, maybe more so in fantasy/urban fantasy- its hard to get some great world-building in there. I often see that the stories are based in a world the author has their series in - which can be confusing to new readers if not done quite right.

"Undead in the Garden of Good and Evil" by Kim Harrison – This is a story of the vampire Ivy from Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series, before Ivy and Rachel met. Ivy is working at Inderland security under an undead vampire and trying to advance up the ranks, except she doesn't want to do it the traditional way vamps do it (which is pretty much requires her to use her body/blood and submitting to older vampires). So we get some backstory here on Ivy which is very interesting if you have read and liked Kim Harrison's series and explains some of her angsty past. On the other hand, if you haven't read that series, this story (especially the beginning of it) can be confusing. I was a little confused myself for the first page or two before I got where the time period was and remembered some of the rules of being a vampire from Harrison's series. Once I got that I felt it was one of the stronger stories in here (but I'm a fan of that series too, so I'm not sure how much that colors my opinion).

"The Claire Switch Project" by Lynsay Sands - this is about a couple of scientists who are testing a ray on lab animals which is supposed to allow them to have cameleon-like abilities. An evil scientist, impatient to test it on humans, tricks our heroine Claire into getting into shooting range of this ray and zaps her. Now she can change into anyone she wants to just by thinking about it. Hijinks ensue when her best friend finds out and wants her to pretend to be super-moviestar Brad Cruise at their high school reunion, the same reunion she is invited to by her long time crush and fellow co-worker Kyle. I think the name Brad Cruise was a silly choice, and then half of the story takes place in the restroom as the heroine switches from Brad Cruise to herself and back multiple times, so to me this felt like the most goofy story in here. It also felt very high school sitcom (trying to get back at the mean girl in high school who became the mean woman at the high school reunion). It could be amusing for someone who likes this kind of humor, but not really my thing.

"Chaotic" by Kelly Armstrong – This too is a short story based in a world that the author has a series on – the women of the otherworld, but it centers on a new character named Hope who is half chaos-demon trying to use her powers for good. A newbie in her task, she runs into werewolf and thief Marsden, mentioned in the series (so I hear, but I haven't gotten to those books yet). This was a pretty interesting story and I liked how the author had a resolution to the story but also left some things unfinished – made the tale believable and I wouldn't mind seeing these characters again in the future to see where that relationship went. Also one of the stronger stories for me.

"Dead Man Dating" by Lori Handeland – Kit is a literary agent in New York City and she's out on a date, but when she finds herself pinned against an alley wall by him and she's not that kind of girl - she begins to feel strangely not herself. When demon hunter Chavez rescues her, she learns her date is dead – possessed by some kind of incubus demon which wants her in particular. There were a couple of amusing bits to this one (Chavez has a thing for girls who read), and a couple of annoying bits (Kit's self esteem issues), but overall it was in the "alright" category.

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