Charmed Anthology (Jayne Castle, Julie Beard, Lori Foster and Eileen Wilks)

15 Jan

(Barely under the wire, I just finished writing this now, and have to run to work)

Charmed anthologyThis is, once again, all SLWendy’s fault. I am not entirely sure how it happened, but I have once again signed up for her annual TBR Challenge. Considering I have already managed two full reviews this year, I’m cautiously optimistic that I may last longer this time around than I did two years ago (when I lasted all of five months *wince*).

Anyhoo, this month’s theme is shorts, and happily there are a number of anthologies in the humongous TBR mountain range. Behold, my brief review of the four short stories in

Charmed Anthology, by Jayne Castle, Julie Beard, Lori Foster and Eileen Wilks

This anthology was originally published back in 1999, but I didn’t get it until a couple of years ago (or something like that, all I know for sure is that it’s been a while). And the main reason I bought my copy is because the first story is written by Jayne Castle aka Jayne Ann Krentz aka Amanda Quick, aka an author I usually enjoy (though I see with extreme surprise that I haven’t reviewed anything by her yet—under any of her names!). I was also happy to see that the last story is by Eileen Wilks, an author I wanted to try…because I have a couple *coughorahandfulcough* of her full-length Lupi novels in the aforementioned TBR mountain range.

At any rate, as is often the case with fickle lil me, the anthology languished in one of the many TBR shelves until now. So, and without (too much) further ado…

The mercifully short back cover blurb:

Everything is possible and nothing is as it seems in four enchanting tales brimming with romance, passion and a touch of wonder. From a marriage of convenience between a psychic archaeologist and her bodyguard in a galaxy far, far away to ancient Britain and a dashing knight wounded in the service of King Arthur, from a house haunted by two mischievous ghosts to a woman torn between her fiancé and a seductive djinn, you’ll be bewitched, beguiled, and bedazzled as four of today’s most popular authors cast their most potent love spells…

Blergh.

Interestingly, the short little blurbettes on the inside of the cover are much better, so I’m including those with the review for each story.

Oh, and the tie of the stories is that they all happen—more or less, as time can be a funny thing—on Halloween.

~*~*~*~*~

“Bridal Jitters” by Jayne Castle

In the distant future, an official marriage-of-convenience between paranormal business partners is almost called off—because of love.

As I understand it, this short story is the prequel to a number of longer stories set in Harmony. The world building is pretty basic, sketchy even, with most of the rules of the world set for the reader through the inner reflections of the main characters, particularly our heroine. A couple of centuries or so ago, some sort of wormhole opened near Earth, enabling humans to migrate to the now deserted world of Harmony. Eventually, the wormhole collapses (aka, “the closing of the Curtain”) isolating the colonists. Over time, a modern society develops which, to a point, mirrors that of Earth.

Whether through the influence of the planet itself, the relics left behind by the long-gone previous inhabitants, or other factors, humans in Harmony have developed psychic abilities that enable them to better cope with their new environment.

Virginia is a para-archaeologist who specializes in untangling the “traps” set by the ancient Harmonics to protect their old cities. Sam is a ghost-hunter, whose ability is to basically…well, he zaps some sort of psychic energy into non-existence (yes, this is not too clear in the story). Anyway, they both have small business working for the many outfits mapping out the magnificent Dead City—the ruins next to which the city of Cadence is built—and soon after meeting, Sam proposes to Virginia that they should apply for a marriage of convenience.

The story doesn’t really make it clear why such an arrangement is necessary for them to start a business together, but this is the justification given for the “conflict” in the story: they are very attracted to each other, but are wary of admitting to it, preferring to stick to the “just business” arrangement. Until, of course, their very first joint contract forces them to face this attraction, with one thing leading to another in a predictable, and satisfactory, manner.

This is by no means my favorite story by Ms Castle/Krentz/Quick—I like more meat to my world building, and prefer that whatever keeps the characters apart makes sense—but it was a nice, easy, quick read.

“Bridal Jitters” gets a 6.50 out of 10.

~*~*~*~*~

“Man in the Mirror” by Julie Beard

Gazing into an antique mirror, a romance-shy young woman comes face to face with the right man from the wrong time: a courageous knight of King Arthur’s court…

Katie is twenty-nine, single and experiencing an existential crises. Twice—so far—men have saved her life, fallen in love with her, asked her to marry them. Twice, she’s said yes and then pulled back, realizing she feels grateful and therefore obligated to return their feelings, while in reality she doesn’t love them. She has also quit med school, because she lost a patient, a very young girl, just as she’s about to start her medical internship. (And here I wonder if the author meant residency? There’s some inconsistency throughout the story as to how advanced in her studies Katie actually is/was.)

Anyway, we have a clichéd mysterious stranger warning Katie about mirrors, an equally clichéd older and wise friend giving her comfort, words of wisdom, and a priceless heirloom—yes, of course a mirror—along with not-so-cryptic hints about the future, love and life. Not much later, Katie finds herself in another continent, 16 or so centuries in the past, consorting with a wounded knight of Camelot.

The writing is…competent, at most. The author tries to cover way too much ground, and a couple of weeks’s worth of adventure, in less than eighty pages. As a result, there is a lot of telling with a few bits of actual action topped with a smattering of Arthurian lore. It annoys me that we are told a few times how Katie was obsessed with the period and the stories, and yet she doesn’t seem to remember how many versions of the myth there are, she just remembers one and, what a coincidence, that’s the one she finds herself in. Gah!

The entire story is a heavy handed lecture to Katie—how she’s a good healer, how her failure to save that little girl was due more to circumstances (and that fact that she’s not God) than to her ability, courage or knowledge, how she has a destiny as a doctor/healer—while the practicalities of the situation are obviated.

Seriously, none of the practical details of the story make sense, at all. She and her wounded warrior spend three days in a cave while she heals him enough to travel to a safer place—there’s no mention of food or running (clean) water. Tristan, the knight, is dying one day, three days later he’s well enough to ride a horse for hours until they reach the safe place. He tried to reach the cave, while wounded, to hide from the bad guys who roam the countryside, but after three days he’s fine to ride during the daylight towards one of Arthur’s known safe places with a woman dressed strangely sitting behind you. Oh, and once you reach your destination, Arthur’s servants will be happy to see you, be amazed at your guest appearance, and never utter a superstitious statement upon meeting her. And so on and so forth.

I spent the entire time I was reading this story annoyed at the message—yes, Katie, you are worthy of great love and able to return it in full—and even more annoyed at the delivery.

“Man in the Mirror” gets a 3.50 out of 10

~*~*~*~*~

“Tangled Dreams” by Lori Foster

To uncover a family heirloom, two ghosts orchestrate a most passionate tryst between a demure lady and the sexy bartender she can’t get out of her mind…

We meet our protagonists in the middle of a crowded bar, which allows the author to give us a couple of short background infodumps to set the stage. Mind you, I think it could have been done differently, but they are brief enough to gloss over and keep reading, and what’s happening is interesting enough to grab the reader’s attention: our heroine, Allison, is having some hot and heavy fantasy about Chase, as she discreetly watches him from across the room, while he…can hear every single one of her thoughts without her knowledge.

I was a bit surprised by this story, until I remember when it was originally published. See, Chase is sexually dominant—not that we know exactly how far into kink, given the length of the story—and apparently shares the belief that all kinky people (women in particular) share obvious traits, so that he chooses his partners carefully. He’s so careful, in fact, that everyone considers him cold, given that he only dates a handful of times a year.

And he is so entrenched on his views of who can be amenable to his sexual preferences, that he discards Allison immediately. After all, no one as wholesome in appearance can want to be dominated in bed, or play with a little sexual bondage.

Things would have stayed the same, save for the meddling of a couple of ghosts who are eager to move on, if only they could find the properly passionate descendant to leave their legacy to. Allison’s fascination with, and lusting for, Chase provides the ghosts with the means to discover whether she’s the one who’ll finally release them.

It’s a cute story, and while I am not convinced that a night of mildly kinky sex is enough to turn Chase mild indifference and Allison’s lust into lasting love, it’s well written and engaging.

“Tangled Dreams” gets a 7.00 out of 10.

~*~*~*~*~

“Pandora’s Bottle” by Eileen Wilks

A conservative stockbroker harbors a magical secret—one that unbottles his fiancée’s wildest desires…

I liked this one. The world building is sparse but organic to the story: we only know enough to make sense of the events affecting out protagonists. Perfect.

Dora—short for the Pandora of the title—is a very sensible woman who leaves magic and all its upheaval to other people after a rather disastrous incident some twenty years prior. She’s very happy to found someone equally sensible and rational, whom she loves and who returns her feelings, and is very hopeful that a proposal—and perhaps some happy celebratory sex—is forthcoming. And if there is a nagging sense of something missing, it’s not enough for a sensible, mature woman to spend much time gripping about.

John does want to propose, but there is one pesky little detail to dispose of first: the family djinn, who happens to be…well, bound to him more closely than it’s comfortable. Said djinn, who this time around calls itself Jack, is a lovably scoundrel responsible for more mischief than any one single entity should be rights be allowed, and now, with John’s love for Dora, things are reaching a breaking point.

Dora, like several generations of Raven brides before her, must make a choice that will determine the future of all three—but magic is nothing if not devious, convoluted and cryptic.

I like how the characters discover things about each other in the course of the story—and I don’t necessarily mean their “big” secrets, but how they are surprised (and not necessarily in a positive way) by the other’s thoughts and opinions on important things. For example, John is a bit dismayed by Dora’s overt prejudice against non-human beings, while she is taken aback by how strongly he reacts when he learns she herself has a touch of magic. Like real people in a relationship, where you think you have a good handle on how the other person sees things that are dear to your heart, and yet can still be surprised by what you don’t know about each other after months of close interaction and hours of conversation.

In this case, and due to magical deadline, both characters have to grow rather a bit in a short time—less than a full day, in fact—but it’s pretty believable because they are grown ups, not children.

“Pandora’s Bottle” gets a 7.00 out of 10

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6 Responses to “Charmed Anthology (Jayne Castle, Julie Beard, Lori Foster and Eileen Wilks)”

  1. Carolyn 20/01/2014 at 8:05 PM #

    Gonna get this book strictly for Eileen Wilks, who I love, but also I’m a sucker for ghost stories, so it’s a twofer. Thanks AL. 🙂

  2. Carolyn 23/01/2014 at 1:39 AM #

    Rats, this book is not for Kindle, is only available used. 😦

    • azteclady 23/01/2014 at 2:08 AM #

      😦 Sorry–but perhaps the Wilks story has been digitized? (not sure if it’s old enough for the rights to have reverted, but perhaps worth checking, seeing if it’s for sale individually)

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  3. After Dark, by Jayne Castle | Her Hands, My Hands - 03/07/2017

    […] I had a vague feeling that I read this when it first came out, back in 2000, but when listened to it I didn’t remember…well, anything except the bare basics of the world building premise: humans in some other planet a couple hundred years from now, psychic powers, extinct previous civilization. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that I had read the prequel, “Bridal Jitters,” in the Charmed anthology. […]

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