Rating (out of 5): 4 stars
I have a hit-or-miss record with anthologies, especially those including more than five stories. However, Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner consistently manage to pull together a quality collection of short stories. I think part of what helps is the themes. This time out the duo asked their writer friends to write an urban fantasy story with an element of home improvement involved. In some cases, it was home security, others renovations and even fighting with the home owners’ association.
I was excited for a new Sookie Stackhouse story. I like Sook, and I liked Harris’ short story in this anthology. In “If I Had a Hammer,” we found Sam and Sookie helping Tara and J.B. renovate their house in the name of a bit more room with the twins. There’s a bloody back story and a psychic involved. It’s cute and quick, and despite the lack of Eric, I enjoyed it. Though, I must admit, if you weren’t already familiar with Sookie and her world, it may lack context for you.
Instead of giving you a play-by-play of Home Improvement, I’ll just hit the highlights. Above all the others, there were three stories that stood out to me as the best: Melissa Marr’s “The Strength Inside,” Patricia Brigg’s “Gray” and Stacia Kane’s “Rick the Brave.”
Melissa Marr gives us a taste of the fae with her tale of Bori sisters raising two littles. The young Bori may look like teenagers, but are developmentally toddlers. Lacking impulse control when it comes to snatching birds and the like in the new neighborhood could be dangerous, and so the sisters seek to build a fence. Unfortunately, the head of the home owners’ association doesn’t much care for them.
The juxtaposition of feral fae attempting to mainstream in the ‘burbs is both creepy and touching. Marr’s “The Strength Inside” had me rapt from beginning to end. It might be worth the cost of Home Improvement: Undead Edition for this story alone.
Patricia Briggs went a different route, while there is a big remodeling project in her tale, “Gray” is really about a vampire seeking redemption from a lost love while claiming what’s hers. There’s a heavy theme of vampire territoriality and a touch of heartache.
Finally, Stacia Kane’s “Rick the Brave” made me all sorts of happy. You don’t need to have read the Downside Ghosts books to appreciate this one, but those longing for a Terrible or Chess fix will be pleased.
Terrible’s hired guys for a bit of no-questions-asked renovation. When Rick and his peer’s work opens a portal to the City of the Dead, the others flee. Rick and Terrible fend off ghosts while waiting for Chess to arrive. In the middle of trying to stay alive, Rick tries to hit on Chess. Terrible isn’t pleased, but you’ll get a laugh out of it. Those who have read through City of Ghosts will enjoy seeing Terrible and Chess interact. Only downside (no pun intended) is the story has me itching for Sacrificial Magic something fierce.
While I read most of this anthology, I skipped “Through This House” by Seanan McGuire. She’s fantastic, don’t get me wrong. Her story features October Daye, and I am not caught up on the series. The opening of the story gave back story that felt spoiler-y, so I skipped ahead. But I’d be willing to wager it’s excellent. I have yet to be disappointed by her.
On a side note, I really would love if they included spoiler alerts in anthologies. Like, just give me a heads up. “This story takes place after book X” would go far.