Wolfsbane & Mistletoe

End Date:  December 30th

Author:  Charlaine Harris & Contributors

Published:  2008

Genre:  Urban Fantasy / Short Story Collections

Pages:  340 (hardcover)

Selected By:  Lady Esbe

Average Review: Scoring Liked Book

“Let’s face it – the holidays can bring out the beast in anyone.  They are particularly hard if you’re a lycanthrope.  Whether wolfing down a holiday feast or craving some hair of the dog on New Year’s morning, the werewolves in these frighteningly original stories will surprise, delight, amuse, and scare the pants off readers who love a little wolfsbane with their mistletoe.”  (Authors include: Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Keri Arthur, Carrie Vaughn, Donna Andrews, Simon R. Green, Dana Cameron, Kat Richardson, Alan Gordon, Dana Stabenow, J.A. Konrath, Nancy Pickard, Karen Chance, Rob Thurman, and Toni L.P. Kelner)

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Gigglemug Reviews

Lady Esbe:  Scoring Liked Book

I opted for the audiobook, because it would allow me to continue my long work hours without having to omit BOOKS.  I’ve tried not to critique the readers of each book and kept my reviews to the stories themselves.

Charlaine Harris, Gift Wrap.  As per the usual, Sookie Stackhouse is the annoying, whiny woman that she always is.  “Ugh!!!” was my first thought in the first five minutes of the book.  The oh-woe-is-me never seems to be far from Sookie’s lips or thoughts, and as with the regular series, I often wished her dead.  But, of course, told from the first person, we are stuck with her… AGAIN.  The only thing a bit more desperate than her whining is that her base desires and thoughts are always coming to the fore. I was glad the story was brief, but it was pretty par for the course.  She has enough intuition to know to be slightly afraid of the stranger she encounters in the woods; however, in only Sookie fashion, she throws caution to the wind under the guise of being a good Samaritan and brings the highly attractive “injured” werewolf in so she can “protect” him.  Let your imagination drift from there.

Donna Andrews, The Haire of the Beast.  This is my first exposure to Donna Andrews.  Unlike Sookie, the character isn’t quite as annoying because she isn’t whining.  She sees the world and her situation for what it is.  As an academic whose ex took advantage of her, she’s well aware of his manipulations and how her brother has also been manipulated regarding the spell located in a grimoire.  This is super short but slightly amusing with the major element of “there is no fury like a woman scorned.”  Ha!  Her revenge was the best in this anthology.

Simon R. Green, Lucy at Christmastime.  Interesting enough.  The dour werewolf that is oddly nostalgic over lost love.  We of course learn his reasons for being so dour; however, the story was so short that there just wasn’t much to critique.  Quick, to the point, and kind of telegraphed there toward the ending.  Honestly, I was more amused by the author’s introduction than by his brief addition to this collection.

Dana Cameron, The Night Things Changed.  I have to say this was my favorite.  I enjoyed the characters, as well as the alteration to the typical vampire and werewolf lore.  The feel of the tale is great.  I liked the flow and pace, the relationship between the siblings Claudia and Jerry – a vampire and werewolf, respectively.  I enjoyed that their purpose as a culture is to protect those not in their community.  The mix of a crime novel thread to this supernatural story had me searching for this author’s Fangborn series to add it to my prospective reading list.  While this is set during the holidays, there is nothing strictly screaming HOLIDAYS about this one; however, in the short period of time, I became invested in Jerry, especially, and would love to see what sort of shenanigans he and his sister get into.

Kat Richardson, The Werewolf Before Christmas.  Um.  Yeeeeaaaaah.  This felt like a story written for children who didn’t want a traditional Christmas story.  The main character was rather annoying and childish in his older age.  I guess his background was to be his excuse for his poor behavior and part of me could see that.   While this is supposed to be a yuletide alternative book, it was disastrously bleak and quite annoying. The characters did not make me empathetic or invested and I was just rather put off.  However, overall I was not impressed and would not be venturing to read any more of Ms. Richardson’s work.

Alan Gordan,  Fresh Meat.  It would make sense that a werewolf would be a fantastic dog trainer.  After all, he would be the potential pack leader.  There is a wee bit of animal psychology at play when we are introduced to the main character of Lerman (mind you I listened vice truly reading- possible spelling issue on the name).  So far, this is possibly my second favorite.  I enjoyed how his dogs, even those who have trained and left him, return when they realize he was in trouble.  Hey, the love a of pack, no matter the breed, is a beautiful thing.  I enjoyed how the dogs were the heroes of this particular story and it was quite good.  I’d be interested in more stories about Lerman.

Carrie Vauhan, Il Est Ne.  Interesting crime story with a man who does not know what he is any longer and who is at odds with his nature as he was not groomed once he was turned.  He crosses paths with Kittie, an expelled werewolf who is trying to live her life as a lone wolf that happens upon this memory challenged neophyte werewolf.  It’s a careful dance that is well crafted, even if short.  There are some quirky moments in it that makes you chuckle a little and groan at the same time with the lameness of the dialogue.  All in all, I thought it was an interesting read and enjoyed that the “it all works out in the end” scenario.

Dana Stabenow, The Perfect Gift.  So, I’ll be honest.  I stopped taking notes for myself and had to have a second listen to the tale to even remember what it was about.  Not that it was horrible, just that well, it wasn’t that memorable to me.  Another melding of the werewolf into crime novel.  Again, another little short story that happened to be set around Christmas, not much of a Christmas tale.  I do not expect all “werewolves” to be completely be aware of themselves if say, they have yet to change.  However, I was just a wee bit put off, which may be the reason why I kind of blocked it out.

Keri Arthur, Christmas Past.  The main character was reminiscent of Rachel Morgan, and anyone who knows me, I hate Rachel Morgan.  This character isn’t nearly as reckless as Rachel.  However, she is surely as self-absorbed and whiny.  Ok, we all would be pretty peeved to work pretty closely with an ex- who unceremoniously dumped us within the past year.  However, her half a tale griping about him, and the like got old quick.  Her ridiculous denial of who she was ultimately puts herself and others in danger (Rachel Morgan anyone?).  Unlike Rachel, she can hold her own a bit and doesn’t tout that she’s the biggest, baddest around, hoping that no one sees through her vainglorious musings.  She sets about her case with the right amount of apprehensive and tenaciousness.  However, she does what she needs to do in spite of her misgivings toward her former pack.

After the above, I decided to stop doing a blow-by-blow of each story, since you probably get the general idea and it was taking forever – I was so buried in real-life work that my review was already two weeks late, anyway, so for the sake of expediency I can only sum up the entire collection as:  overall, it was a good series of little stories.  I quite enjoyed them despite the business of work and the season.  I chuckled; I groaned; in general, I relaxed.

Esbe’s Favorite Story(ies):  The Night Things Changed and Fresh Meat, in that order.

Lady Esbe listened to the Audible audiobook version of this selection.

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Elle Tea:  Scoring Liked Book

I’ll admit to being a little disappointed in this holiday selection – but not for the reasons you’d think.  It’s got nothing to do with the selection itself, actually… it has to do with how badly I wanted this book to be… well… bad.  Esbe and I had such great laughs over how appallingly awful last year’s Festivus book was that there was a small piece of me that was secretly hoping: “Let this suck as badly if not even more than last  year’s!  Let us laugh at it until tears run down our faces and our ribs creak with the effort of just trying to catch our breath… Let that happen, and then this will be locked in like Dirty Santa and fugly sweaters.  Let Bad Book December become a Gigglemug tradition!!!!”

Alas.  It was not to be.  Because Esbe had to go and pick a good book for the holidays.  Dammit.  🙂

… Mrs. Grogran’s evil little Lhasa Apso – the Lhasa Raptor, as we called him…

Like the other two ladies, I am quite a fan of urban fantasy – but unlike them, werewolves are not my favorite supernatural breed of beasty; personally, I’m more interested in urban fantasy which involves magic along the lines of The Dresden Files, The Iron Fey, and, yes, even The Hollows (my problem with this series was never the magic or even the stories themselves – it was the protagonist we were forced to stay with for the duration).  Don’t get me wrong, I do like werewolves… but unlike the other Ladies I usually end up feeling sorry for them; I don’t see them as powerful and free and awesome… To me, the werewolf package seems like one of those things circled on the calendar in red, like women’s menstrual cycles and dentist’s appointments.  I don’t see it as freedom, to lose control of yourself or the parts of your mind and heart that make you weak and soft and, well, you.  I would hate to wake up places and have no idea where the hell I was or why – or to have to trust in someone else so completely that my existence and freedom would be entirely dependent upon their ability to control themselves while simultaneously helping me to learn to control myself.  And if it all works out, the best you can hope for is that you find safety in some hierarchical pack, and here’s a newsflash: noobs (i.e., you and I) would be stuck at the bottom with everyone else stacked above us, and the only way we could gain any footing, the only way we could move up from that dismal position of subservient whipping girl / boy, would be if someone above us died and we had sufficiently played our part for the duration of our tenure.

… everything seems so sharp and intense, when you’re a teenager.  Emotions surge through you like tidal waves, and a sudden smile from a girl can explode in your heart like a firecracker. 

The authors of Wolfsbane & Mistletoe, however, seem for the most part to have opted to have some fun with their subjects and the genre.  For most, much more serious werewolf and vampire tales are their bread and butter, and it was nice to see authors like Patricia Briggs let their hair down and just have some kooky, goofy fun with the subject matter.  By far, my favorite selection (entitled simply with the initials SA) takes this to a whole new and unexpectedly hilarious level, while my second favorite (The Haire of the Beast) takes my own preferred brand of urban fantasy and asks: just what might a talented witch do with a bit of creativity, a lot of grudge, and an opportunity?  There are one or two selections that fit the suffering-but-coping werewolf genre, with Lucy, at Christmastime standing out as the winner for me in this regard.

When the change first takes you, it’s only too easy to mistake one passion for another.

There are, of course, a couple of shorts which were a bit too ridiculous for my tastes – anything involving Santa being a werewolf or a werewolf being part of the whole Christian nativity shtick pretty much had me rolling my eyes.  But even those couple of tales weren’t bad stories, and the big werewolf reveals occurred near the ends, so I was able to bop along quite happily until the final page of each one, at which point I would just sigh, shake my head, and click on to a whole new, totally different story!

“I once had a patient who, while sleepwalking, logged on to an internet casino and blew seventy-eight thousand dollars.”  “So he came to see you for help with sleepwalking?”  “He came to see me to set his broken nose, after his wife found out.” 

In fact, out of the entire collection, there is only one selection I would say I really disliked, and that was The Werewolf Before Christmas.  Oooohhh, I really disliked this one, and upon completion sent a fury of mocking texts to Esbe (and, yes, we did have a few laughs over how appallingly awful it was, so the holiday month wasn’t a complete bust 🙂  ).  This particular addition didn’t seem to fit properly with the rest – besides being a pretty dull story led by a character who is filled with more millennial angst and apathy than all the shows on The CW Network combined, it was clearly written with bedtime stories in mind but only reads that way at the very beginning and very end, the latter of which is presented in such a way that it’s clear the reader was meant to be surprised… but instead it’s all so obvious that it’s less of a “Wow!  That’s amazing!  I see what she did there!” and more of a “Wow.  That’s appalling.  I wish she’d not done this… ever.”

“Where did you learn how to shoot?” he asked.  [Response:] “I teach high school.” 

So, to sum it all up, I would recommend this first and foremost to those of you who go all giddy at the very mention of werewolves, but my fellow urban fantasy fans of all sorts will find something within these pages to tickle their fancy, as well.  And if none of that is your cup o’ tea, well, this makes for a very fresh, entertaining, occasionally refreshingly iconoclastic seasonal holiday selection.

Elle Tea’s Favorite Story(ies):  In order, with my most favorite first: SA, The Haire of the Beast, Fresh Meat, and Lucy, at Christmastime.

Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.

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BillMo:  Scoring Liked Book

I very much liked this December pick!  It was very festive, and if you didn’t like a story there was always a new, promising one just a few clicks away.  I’m not sure which story was actually my favorite, but at the top of the list were: The Haire of the Beast, Fresh Meat, The Star of David, You’d Better Not Pyout, Rogue Elements, and Milk & Cookies.

Not unless the owners had decided to renovate it in early industrial ugly while I was out.

I didn’t see the end coming in Milk & Cookies.  The Haire of the Beast was really cute and had a great message that mostly went something like: don’t mess with me, because I win.  The Star of David was sweet in its way, but I was hoping Patricia Briggs, who happens to be one of my favorite urban fantasy authors, would have done a short story about Mercy Thompson or one of the other big players from that series; it was a little disappointing that none of them even made a cameo… but overall it was a pretty good read.  I didn’t much care for the female lead in Fresh Meat, but it was still a fave because – okay, well, I love dogs, and I loved that all the dogs loved the main character, so it touched my little shriveled heart and moved it into something almost like human emotions, which makes it a damn good story in my book.  You’d Better Not Pyout was funny to me because of the ridiculousness of the first two vampires we’re introduced to; they really made that whole story for me and are the sole reason I think I liked this story so much.  Rogue Elements developed a pretty good, in-depth story in a very short amount of time – I was even able to really care about some of the characters, which is a real feat with a story that’s only about 30 – 40 pages long.  I didn’t expect the ending of Milk & Cookies, and I loved it; in fact, I might have to recommend this one over the others at the top of the list.

That was a car payment and a lap dance, right there.

Werewolves are my favorite supernatural creature.  In fact, if I could pick just one other creature to turn into other than myself, I would always and forever pick a werewolf.  I think it would be great – quick-tempered, powerful… and a wolf!!!  Hello, fate, this must happen to me!!!!

You skip a few Ritalin and things just go to hell.

I recommend this compilation to urban fantasy and werewolf fans everywhere!  Out of the entire collection, there was only one story that I would say was really awful – but it only took up a small section of the book and then was followed by so much awesome werewolf adventure that it ended up not mattering that much.

… Dogwarts.

Plus, the best thing about collections like this is that you may just find a new favorite author or new series to sink your fangs into – I know I did.

Bill’s Favorite Story(ies):  The Haire of the Beast, Fresh Meat, The Star of David, You’d Better Not Pyout, Rogue Elements, and Milk & Cookies.

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.

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