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Guest Review: Kitty's Greatest Hits by Carrie Vaughn

>>Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This guest review was brought to you by calico_reaction!

Kitty's Greatest Hits (2011)
Written by: Carrie Vaughn
Genre: Short Stories/Urban Fantasy
Pages: 319 (ARC)
Release Date: August 16th, 2011

This ARC was received for review from StarMetal Oak Book Blog

Why I Read It: When I heard that Carrie Vaughn was coming out with a short story collection that featured all her Kitty-universe short stories, I was thrilled, because that meant I wouldn't have to track down all the individual anthologies she's been in AND I would finally get to read the long-awaited novella featuring Cormac. Then starmetal_oak contacted me for a guest review: she had received a signed ARC from BEA but wasn't interested because she doesn't read the series and wondered if I'd do a guest review. Hell yeah, I would!

The premise: ganked from BN.com: This first-ever story collection from bestselling author Carrie Vaughn reveals new adventures by sharp-witted werewolf d.j. Kitty Norville and the fascinating back-stories of key characters, including Master vampire Rick, Emma, and Cormac. This collection features two previously-unpublished works. A must-have for the many fans of this critically acclaimed series.

Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. I'll discuss each story individually, but due to the nature of short stories, I won't be spoiling any key plot points; rather, I'll talk about how they fit into the universe and which stories are worth reading and which stories could've used a wee bit more work. Star ratings for each story included!

Il Est Né (5 stars): I'd originally read this in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe back in 2008. Even though it's a good story, and I think I like this story better the second time around. I did find it an odd piece to start out with, only because everything else seems to go in chronological order. This piece is DEFINITELY not in chronological order, but the mystical rules of short story collections state that one must open and end with STRONG STORIES, so in that case, opening with this makes sense.

This tale takes place between Kitty Goes to Washington and Kitty Takes a Holiday and made me really nostalgic for the earlier books, when Kitty wasn't grating on my nerves the way she is now, when she had something to lose and had already lost it and was trying to put her identity back together, piece by piece. When she wanted to avoid violence at all costs. It's a good tale and it had me choked up at the end a bit.

A Princess of Spain (3.5 stars): While there were no series-characters in this story, the paranormal element became quite obvious, quite quickly, which made me wonder if this collection was going to delve into the historical events that Kitty, in present day, is always looking for. Indeed, it was, and while I'm not as familiar with Catherine of Aragon, I did like the inclusion of vampires in her history, as well as the irony of the ending, with Catherine convinced that her life with Henry will be so much better.

Conquistador de la Noche (3 stars): I'm being a bit generous with the rating here because this is Rick's origin story, and it's rather fascinating for that. I also liked how the setting played into the plot itself, especially at the story's end. However, what didn't work for me was Rick's devotion to his faith, which would've been fine, if it hadn't made the story rather melodramatic in parts, if it hadn't made Rick rather whiny and angsty through-out the story. I shouldn't be too harsh on the faith, because one's faith, especially at that time, was essential to their being as air, but even though it essentially saved him, it still left me cold. And I guess I can appreciate Rick all the more now since he's definitely moved on from irritating Louis-mode into something much cooler. Still, I felt meh with this story, which dragged on a bit.

The Book of Daniel (2 stars): This is another story where a character's devotion to his faith just didn't read well for me. Maybe it's due to Vaughn's writing voice, which is so modern that these period pieces end up reading as insincere? That's a high possibility. Whatever the case, I loved the premise of the story itself, which is how Daniel of the Bible escaped the pit of lions. Seriously, that's AWESOME. The rest of the story is a little flat though, and I never really felt the setting was fleshed out, nor the world. That said, this is a SHORT story, so there's only so much room.

The Temptation of Robin Green (4 stars): I've actually got the anthology this story originally appeared in, but I never got around to reading it, which makes me extra-grateful for this collection. I love the slight twist on the Selkie tale, because usually in such a tale, the genders are reversed. Rick also makes a cameo appearance, and he's MUCH cooler here than he was in "Conquistador." Good piece, even if poor Robin is a little mopey by the end. It'd be cool if Kitty ever meets her in a book though, given Robin's state at the end of the story.

Looking After Family (3.5 stars): I can't place my finger on why this story didn't settle with me the way it should have, but I guess it's because whatever we learned in the books of Ben's and Cormac's upbringing, I've forgotten it, and this story really didn't ring any bells. It's a solid enough tale though, highlighting the differences between Ben and Cormac and showing us how and why they became the men they are today; it's especially revealing for its take on Cormac, and quite worth reading because of it.

God's Creatures (4 stars): Speaking of Cormac, we get another tale, one I read in Dark and Stormy Knights last year. I liked the tale then and I like the tale now, and it was good to read this right after "Looking After Family," because it gives some of the throw-away remarks about Cormac's father more meaning. Another great thing about this story is that it spoils NOTHING about the Kitty books whatsoever, so it's the kind of story you can read without reading any of Vaughn's novels.

Wild Ride (2 stars): It pains me to rate this story so low, because it's TJ's origin story and I haven't seen that poor guy since Vaughn's debut (for obvious reasons). I've got the anthology this originally appeared in too, but haven't gotten around to it yet. At any rate, the reason for the low rating is simple: it's all telling and practically no showing. There are things to like about the story, certainly, like seeing how TJ interacted with his first pack, how his sexuality is an easy and obvious metaphor for his werewolf, but I wish the story had been longer, and that Vaughn had taken more with the piece. All tell, little show.

Winnowing the Herd (1 star): This was weird. Pre-Kitty and the Midnight Hour, it paints a far more aggressive Kitty Norville than she appears in the very first book, and that bugs me. She's so meek and passive and scared of herself in the first book that seeing her like this, thinking about meat and her co-workers as sheep, is just startling. The very end with her baying like a sheep is as startling as it is weird, and it was a major WTF moment until I read the author's notes, where we learn that Vaughn was aiming to write a more "literary" story. Right. Okay… but that explains it. Doesn't make the story any better in hindsight, mind you, but at least I understand the motivations behind it, and which is better than thinking the author lost her mind while writing this.

Kitty and the Most Pit of the Damned (3 stars): Coming off "Winnowing the Herd" had me grumpy, so I was in a nitpicky mode with this story. I wanted to know why Kitty didn't mention the MANDATORY soundcheck for the band before they came on stage, I wanted to know why on Earth Jax didn't immediately stop the concert once the dead body was discovered, why he wasn't taking action until after Eliot said he quit and Kent tried to get them all to keep playing (perfect place for Jax to assert his authority and say, "No, we have to stop now") because NO CONCERT VENUE should allow ANY band to keep playing if someone DIED on the floor and the managers of said venue were aware. They'd need to get an ambulance ASAP for fear of getting sued.

So yes, I was nitpicky. The whole selling-your-soul-to-the-devil-to-play-awesome-music is nothing new, but I did like Vaughn's subtle take here, with the devil being one of the Fae, and I liked that Jax was equipped to handle it, because he, too, was Fae. The ending was cute, and got me out of my grumpiness.

Kitty's Zombie New Year (4 stars): I was worried, because I made that snark remark in my review of Kitty's Big Trouble about Vaughn will probably use zombies next, and a commenter warned me there were zombies in this story. HOWEVER, I really, really, REALLY liked this particular take. It worked well and spoke volumes on an emotional scale. Note to Vaughn: I can handle these types of zombies!

Life is the Teacher (5 stars): I think I had this anthology once, but got rid of it before reading Vaughn's tale. But it's a great tale. It's funny too, because I've always thought that Vaughn always had a certain difficulty transitioning couples from friends to lovers in terms of her romantic subplots in various books (everything is fine before and after, it's that transitions that are tricky), but damn if she doesn't get sexual tension just right in this story. This is definitely more paranormal romance than pretty much any of her other stuff, and it's a great piece. It didn't matter either that I barely remembered the main character in question (author's notes reminds me she was turned in Kitty Goes to Washington), because it's such a great, great piece. And here Vaughn's intentions for the piece (exploring sex and vampires; telling an erotic story without the heroine removing her clothes) work fantastically. I can't speak highly enough of this tale. It's awesome.

You're on the Air (3.5 stars): This is a funny little piece that actually takes place in Kitty and the Silver Bullet, but from Kitty's point of view. What this story gives us is the before, during, and after of the call, and how Kitty's advice inspired Jake to take matters into his own hands. It's a good story, even if it was jarring to see narrative I recognized at first (the dialogue portion that takes place in the book).

Long Time Waiting (5 stars): Winning the most ironic title of the collection award, we get the literal long-awaited tale of what happened to Cormac while he was in prison. This tale takes the cake, and while it's not the ONLY reason to buy this book, I wouldn't fault you for getting this book for the novella alone. Seriously. Vaughn takes her time with this piece, fleshes things out and we see how Cormac's story here connects to the Cormac stories we've read before. We learn about Amelia's origin and how she and Cormac reached the agreement they did. It is a fantastic piece, and it's one that can also be read without being familiar with the Kitty universe at all. Not that you're likely to get this book without being familiar with the universe, mind you, but still. Vaughn does such a great job with Cormac's character and his voice that I swear she could easily start a spin-off series featuring Cormac and it'd kick the pants off of what I've read of The Dresden Files (which is, admittedly, only the first book, but still). Hands down, best story in the whole collection.

My Rating: Good Read

I've been tough on the Kitty series of late, but this short story collection, which features only stories that take place in Kitty's universe (historical and present day), really renews my faith a bit (and admittedly makes me miss the early books more). Sure, there's a few pieces that don't work well for me, but one thing that has really helped is getting out of Kitty's head and really seeing Vaughn's supernatural world at large, and from the eyes of other characters. Reading all of these stories doesn't have the same "everything and the kitchen sink" feeling that I sometimes get while reading the actual books in the series in regards to the supernatural that exists in this universe, and that's a nice thing. If you've a fan or have ever BEEN a fan of these books, this anthology is worth taking a look at, if for nothing else but the long-awaited "Long Time Coming," which features Cormac in, well, fans of the books know where, and if you haven't read the books yet, I will spoil nothing. But Cormac's story (rather, STORIES, as there's more than one) isn't the only reason to read this collection: fans of the series will be excited to get Rick and TJ's origin stories, and then there's a few gems that simply shine, such as "Life is the Teacher," which is a departure from Vaughn's usual style but works wonderfully in context. The author's notes at the end of the book also provide an interesting insight to each of the stories, and in some places, getting that background really helped me understand why Vaughn made the decisions she did. I'm glad I was able to read this early, and even though I'm keeping my signed copy of the ARC, I've already pre-ordered the hardcopy (for some reason, Tor is publishing this both as a hardcover and a trade) and look forward to it arriving.

If you've not read the Kitty books, some stories will work better than others, though I'd hesitate to recommend reading the whole collection without having at least some of the books under your belt. Still though, some of the stories should work fine if you're not already a fan of the series but are a fan of urban fantasy in general. "Long Time Coming," is great for fans of magic; "Life is the Teacher" is great for fans of paranormal romance (but don't mind getting a twist), and while "Il Est Né" is a holiday tale, if you like werewolves and want to sample what Kitty's life is like at the start of the series, it'd be an easy tale to get into.

At any rate, I'm happy with the collection, and I really, really hope there's plans for Vaughn to publish a SECOND short story collection, but this time, featuring all of her stories that ARE NOT a part of the Kitty universe.

Cover Commentary: I love this cover. The colors, how Kitty herself is kind of cloaked in shadow, how she's actually reasonably dressed and showing no tattoos! My only quibble with Kitty's appearance is what LOOKS like a silver necklace. Oops? Of course, I'm looking at the cover to the ARC, which may be different in the final copy, but on the whole, it's a great Kitty cover. It's also the first that doesn't feature a were-creature as well, but that doesn't bother me, because this book has more POVs in it that just Kitty's, so it's appropriate to create that slight distinction in the cover. :) If there were a were-creature on the cover, it'd be easy to assume that this was just another Kitty installment, which it isn't.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again for giving me this opportunity, and for the signed ARC! :)



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