Freya’s Bower, $7.99, ISBN 1-934069-36-1
Mixed Genre Romance, 2007
Dreams & Desires is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a while. Just when I’m convinced that it’s some kind of cosmic rule for anthologies in general to be disappointing in one way or the other, I find myself laughing quietly to nearly every story, sighing softly at many of them, and for Richelle Mead’s Brushstrokes, that story gives me a crazy impulse to book a plane ticket to wherever it is Amazon stockpiles books for international delivery so that I can grab her upcoming book the moment it’s available instead of waiting impatiently for the parcel to make its way from Sweden via Hong Kong to my doorstep.
I adore Brushstrokes. This historical short story is about Bianca, a succubus, who is currently having fun as Spain burns from the Inquisition, seducing the pious and the hypocritical so that their souls will be pledged to the darkside. Unfortunately, her principles and beliefs are challenged when she ends up falling for an artist, Niccolò Giordani, and starts hiding the artworks and books deemed heretical by the Church. The last act in particular goes against her raison d’etre – to spread evil – since the burning of books and works of art is “good” according to her kind, she is therefore “wrong” to continue her liaison with Niccolò. Bianca has to make a difficult choice as a result.
This story manages to get everything right where I am concerned. I love how the author manages to make Bianca’s conflict come off so real and heartbreaking in such a short story. She also drops hints and snippets of this alternate historical era where angels and demons are living among humans in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me with details or overpower the main story, so I’m now eager to read the author’s future full-length books now and by now, I mean, I’m going to get a plane ticket and fly right to Ms Mead’s house and force her to show me everything she has in her work-in-progress folders of her PC or laptop or whatever because I need to read more.
Gemma Halliday’s Confessions of a Bombshell Bandit is another short story that has me putting the author’s name on the top of the list the next time I go book shopping because I love this author’s voice. Carrie Cabot is not a happy woman when she gets dismissed from her job after filing a complain about her manager who has hands that end up in places where they shouldn’t be, if you know what I mean. When a handsome bank robber happens to stop by her counter just as she’s getting ready to be escorted out of the premises, she gets an inspiration: she’ll rob the bank herself! I love unrepentant Carrie in all her glory and I love this story.
Meanwhile, Jackie Kessler’s To the Core is in the same vein and probably even the same alternate reality as that of Hell’s Belles. Our heroine Gwendolyn is a Zintal, some extraplanar kind of human-like creature (I think) who can control Elementals. However, Gwendolyn has to marry a designated person determined by her family and she decides that she has had enough of having her life dictated by her powers and all the rules and customs that come with them. She’s even willing to be an ordinary mortal if that’s what it takes to be really free. This story is like a lost episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch which has Sabrina giving her aunts the finger and I mean that in a good way. There are enough interesting glimpses into the alternate reality and the interesting workings of the reality without overwhelming the reader and I like this story.
Shaunna Wolf’s The Forge: Jezren Dark Sky is a typical futuristic sexy romance story but it’s still a readable story even if it does come off unfortunately like too much a formulaic sexy futuristic story complete with familiar characters and plot.
The remaining stories are shorter than the ones I’ve mentioned above and it’s hard to review them because some are as short of three or four pages. However, many of them are enjoyable to read because they are comparable to brief but effective glimpses into the happy (and in some cases, bittersweet) moments of somebody else’s life. These stories vary in style and setting, with some being chick-lit and romantic comedies while others are romantic drama aiming to make me sigh rather than chuckle. Some are really sexually explicit, like Sasha White’s The Mirror, while others are sweet and adorable like Amanda Brice’s Love @ First Site. Sela Carsen proves that she is no fluke by giving me an enjoyable short story The Christmas Prize while Faith Bicknell-Brown’s Words without Love manages to be sweet and a little poignant all at once. I also enjoy Susan Lyons’s Taking the Alleys because it presents a sweet romance featuring an adorable hero who’s worried that his lady love may not be taking the relationship as seriously as he is. As for the remaining stories, they aren’t as memorable to me as the above stories I’ve mentioned but I find them, even at their worst, pleasant to read. For many of these stories, the shortness isn’t an issue with me at all because many of these stories manage to portray an adequate depiction of the characters’ emotions and their reactions to these emotions. A few stories, like Debbie Mumford’s Red’s Merry Mischief which explains the nature of some magical jar that in my understanding has a prominent role in one of the author’s previously published book, complement the authors’ previous and upcoming longer works but these stories are self-contained and therefore still remain readable without coming off as blatant “Buy my books!” plugs.
Dreams & Desires is a charity anthology and net proceeds will go to women’s shelters. That’s not a bad way to spend $7.99, really, but how lucky for me that I end up feeling that I am getting much more than I gave when it comes to this anthology. Nearly all the stories work very well in entertaining me and many make me chuckle, giggle, or even sigh. It also makes me want to fly over to America, say, tomorrow at the first available flight and break into Kensington’s warehouse so that I can grab a copy of Richelle Mead’s upcoming book because I want to read it right now, but that’s probably just me.
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