Backlist Review: An Apple for the Creature ed. Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner

Friday, February 26, 2016
Title: An Apple for the Creature
Editor: Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Supernatural
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #12.5, Calliope Reaper-Jones #1.5, Kate Daniels #5.3, Jane Yellowrock #4.2,  Remy Chandler #5.5
Pages: 352
Published: September 4, 2012
Source: borrowed library
Rating: 3/5
What could be scarier than the first day of school? How about a crash course in the paranormal from Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner, editors of Home Improvement: Undead Edition? Your worst school nightmares—taking that math test you never studied for, finding yourself naked in school assembly, not knowing which door to enter—will pale in comparison to these thirteen original stories that take academic anxiety to whole new realms.

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!

An Apple for the Creature is the fifth anthology collaboration between Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner. Even if you're not a big UF reader, I'm sure you've seen them. They have amusing titles and bright, attractive art that's always drawn me towards them. They're filled with big names in the fantasy and UF genres: Seanan McGuire, Ilona Andrews, even Brandon Sanderson.

Unfortunately, what they're not known for is great reviews.

Whether it's the anthology format or the odd prompts, these books never seem to reach beyond middling. I did pick this one up from the library specifically for "Magic Tests", but I decided to give it a full read through to see how such great authors can be involved in such mediocre scores.

Playing Possum by Charlaine Harris - ⭐️
Well here's the problem.

Look, I loved the first four Sookie books. I have positive feelings on 5 - 9. The less said about the conclusion of the series, the better, but I liked Charlaine's stories, including the short stories up until "Lucky" or "Gift Wrap".

Fuck this story.

Sookie has to take cupcakes to her nephew's school. The story acknowledges there's no reason for this, except to get Sookie into the location. She states, in the text that there's literally zero reason Remy or his girlfriend couldn't have brought them. Pointing out your plot holes is not the same as fixing them, Ms. Harris. Anyway, the school secretary's boyfriend goes crazy and shows up shooting. Sookie plays possum. Hunter's teacher turns out to be a witch. (Super convenient!) She stops the bad guy. Sookie lies on a floor.

I...why?! I know you hate your characters, Charlaine, but it's not interesting or fun or a good read. It's just a woman, lying on a floor, waiting for the cops to arrive.

Spellcaster 2.0 by Jonathan Maberry - ⭐️ 1/2
I almost kind of saw something in this plot. A group of anthropology students, under their hard-ass, fame-hungry professor, assemble a database of magical spells from ancient civilizations around the world, in an effort to create a master spell that may be able to show how linguistics and religion traveled across the globe.

Unfortunately, the main character is a pompous ass and the sub-plot about corporate sabotage didn't work for me. The real reason for the score, though, is after they succeed in accidentally summoning a demon, the story becomes obsessed with its religious message. I've read actual religious fiction that preached less and was certainly less insulting to atheists and agnostics. It's vastly unpleasant.

Academy Field Trip by Donald Harstad - ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
Cool motive, still murder slut-shaming.

Sympathy for the Bones by Marjorie M. Liu - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
This story is a turning point for the collection. While I found the writing a little overstuffed, particularly in the first few pages of scene setting, the plot made up for my reservations.

An apprentice witch is forced to make voodoo dolls to kill, while her mistress keeps her captive though guilt, manipulation, and a doll of her own. It’s dark and unpleasant. Our character is asked to make a lot of tough decisions. She kills for her own gain. Yet she strives to break a cycle, so is it worth it? I enjoyed the ambiguity.

Low School by Rhys Bowen - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
I actually think "Low School" has the best plot of all the stories in this collection. I’m just not sure about the execution.

It’s morning in high school. The narrator has forgotten her number two pencils. She’s directed to a classroom at the end of a hallway she never seems to reach. She’s regained all the weight she lost and is wearing hideous hand-me-down’s she thought she got rid of, when? She’s unprepared for an impossible exam and her pencil snaps in the middle of the final question.

Yo, I feel this. My go-to stress dream is a schedule I’ve forgotten, which is locked in a locker I don’t know the combination to, sends me to a math class I haven’t been attending, which is several stories up and on the other side of a school I can’t navigate. And I’m late. I’m thirty years old. Going back to high school is definitely my idea of hell.

Unfortunately, the eventual meeting with principal Lucy Fer, left me scratching my head. Am I supposed to root for the narrator, a shark lawyer who never put her family first and fought against environmental causes? Am I supposed to root for literal Satan, who tricked a 14 year old girl into selling her soul? Like, the narrator is told she’ll start every day without memory. Her response is to go to the library to study? Sure.

Callie Meet Happy by Amber Benson - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
This is one of the few stories in the anthology that are explicitly linked to a larger series, and the only one that made me want to read that series. As a stand alone story, I’ve read better. It feels like a Marvel/DC crossover one-shot, except as far as I can tell, Happy only exists in this book? But I liked Callie. I loved the idea of Death as a corporation. It reminded me of Dead Like Me, though a bit more serious. So I enjoyed the story, even if it didn’t feel like it mattered if I read it or not.

Iphigenia in Aulis by Mike Carey - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
This is the story that was eventually reworked and expanded into The Girl With All the Gifts, AKA my favorite book ever. As such, I recognize this is not an objective rating. Seeing Carey’s revisions and changes was absolutely fascinating. I’d love to know the decision to swap Miss Mailer and Miss Justineau’s roles in the final story. The setting is moved from California to Carey’s native England. What made that choice? (It’s a good one, I think. London just lends itself to zombies.) And of course, the end is completely different, as Melanie and Sarge face off against scavengers together. Oh Sarge.

Golden Delicious by Faith Hunter - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Where "Callie Meet Happy" made me add the author’s series to my TBR, this story felt incomplete without existing knowledge of Hunter’s world, but didn’t encourage me to seek it out. A newly turned werewolf is accepted to a supernatural taskforce, where he works with another werewolf and a green catmonkey. Something something, angels, full moon, love interest, evil witches, demon. It’s fine but not memorable.

Magic Tests by Ilona Andrews - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Ahem. Following Julie’s latest expulsion, we finally get a story from her POV. Kate offers her a choice between two schools for magically inclined children, and as added incentive, sends her as an undercover operative to find a missing child at one. Julie’s arc has been her desire to prove to Kate that she’s adult and competent and amazing, (like all fourteen year old girls, with the added bonus of magic,) so a little challenge is all it takes to get her on campus.

Guys, Julie fights a demon wolf with a dragon. What did we do to deserve such good from Andrews?

An Introduction to Jewish Myth and Mysticism by Steve Hockensmith - N/R

Each story begins with a brief bio on the author, who they are, what they write, and why we should care what they say. Hockensmith chose to write as story specifically titled "An Introduction to Jewish Myth and Mysticism" and then chose to introduce himself as “a typical WASPy, Midwestern Goy.” He hopes he did a good job, you guys!

I don’t think white people should be banned from writing minorities, but literally everything about that bio made me nope right the fuck out. I didn’t read. I didn’t rate. I didn’t include my zero stars in the book’s average. We’re just going to pretend this...this this didn’t happen.

VSI by Nancy Holder - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
This is the third story in this book about FBI trainees catching supernatural creatures, and the second specifically about them catching vampires. It reads like X-Files fan fiction. It’s fine for what it is.

The Bad Hour by Thomas E. Sniegoski - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Personal preference, but I don’t read paranormal or UF based in Christianity. No Constantine, no Angelfall, not even Supernatural. So finding out the main character Remy is actually Ramiel, fallen angel? I was pretty solidly aboard the nope train.

And then I read he had the power to talk to his dog, Marlowe, and everything changed. Dogs are amazing. Talking dogs are better. A story about a ghost/evil spirit haunting an obedience school, giving MAXIMUM DOGGY SCREEN TIME is best. The villain was kind of silly, but I actually liked the writing. I would think about continuing the series if I saw it at my library.

Pirate Dave and the Captain's Ghost by Toni L.P. Kelner - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
One of the sillier stories in the book and probably the one that plays loosest with the “school” idea.

Joyce is a werewolf. She’s also apparently the owner of a pirate theme park, along with her vampire husband, Pirate Dave. This hasn’t made her overly popular with the local packs, so Joyce enjoys status as a pack of one. Now the annual werewolf conference has arrived, and a lonely Joyce decides to join breakout sessions like, “hunting small woodland animals” and “here’s a ghost to tell you why vampires are bad.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, as a frequent conference attendee, that makes me laugh. What doesn’t is everything after Dave arrives to check up on her. Sexy times are totally cool, but these felt abrupt and forced. The mad scientist was a fine villain, but the important conflict all took place off screen. Joyce never got to seem like the cool, capable werewolf she was advertised as.

So there we go, thirteen stories from a wide range of UF authors featuring a good mixture of humor and thrills. A fair representation of all the creepies and crawlies the genre has to offer and the mean score is…!

3.2. Completely and totally average.


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