There are some nights when I need something a bit lighter in content than say, history or philosophy or what have you. That's usually when I turn to fiction, and sometimes, a novella will do the trick for when I want my brain to settle down and go to sleep.
One of the big sub-genres in romance writing these days is the paranormal. To give it a loose description, a paranormal story will involve any of the following: time-travel, witches, ghosts, demons, angels, werewolves and vampires and other assorted critters. Sometimes you get a combination of any and sometimes all of these things. Most of the time, however, I can get pretty disappointed with these elements -- while the authors can come up with acceptable romantic elements, the end results are usually so choppy that I'm just fed up by the end of the story.
But I was pleasantly surprised by this collection by four different authors. The stories have a bit more going on than the usual 'boy-meets-girl' stereotype, and the more unusual elements are handled with some skill, making these feel better than the usual story of this type where the author is trying too hard to put in fantasical elements.
Witch Way by MaryJanice Davidson is an amusing blend of humor and an ancient curse that affects two families. The Goodmans and the Meres have been trying to kill each other off since the times of the Salem Witch hunts, when a Goodman arranged for Christopher de Mere to burn at the stake (yes, I know, there were never any witches burned at Salem). Mere curses the Goodmans to die by a descendant of his until both sides of the feud manage to reconcile. Then the story leaps ahead to the here-and-now to the current generation of Goodmans.
Rhea Goodman is more than a little sick and tired of her life, especially with her hippie parents, Power and Flower, what with the endless commando training and homeschooling. She'd much rather be a poet, but what with all of the stories of the murderous, evil de Meres waiting out there to wipe out her family, she knows that she doesn't have much of a choice. Then a tall, lanky fellow shows up in her driveway, bearing a very similar appearance to the old drawings of the first de Mere witch. Now the fight is on.
Chris Mere is weary of having to be watching his back all the time, waiting for some fanatical Goodman to gun him down. He's hoping that in this generation he can settle the feud once and for all, and get himself a real life. Of course, things aren't going to turn out quite that way, but it's certainly a fun read to see how they get there. The humor is a bit broad at times, and Davidson is certainly playing the story for laughs, but it's a relief to read a romance that doesn't take itself so seriously for once. Four stars for this one.
Street Corners and Halos by Catherine Spangler is a rather more serious stories in the collection. Rachel is a hooker, to put it bluntly, able to enchant her johns by tapping into their fantasies with a bit of mental trickery. In return she gets some of the cash she needs, and a chance to feed, for she is a vampire. It's a life that she's not too happy with, but she also has little choice in the matter. But one night, one of her marks turns out to be someone quite different, and Rachel finds out that life could be better than she could have ever hoped for -- if she can make the choice.
I found this one to be considerably different than most vampire stories, if only for the main character of Rachel and her backstory. Readers should be warned that the content in this one is very graphic and adult, but to balance that there are the secondary characters of Caitria, a fellow streetwalker and Gertie the cat. And of course, Gabriel, who is very unusual indeed. Overall, about three and a half stars.
The Demon's Angel by Emma Holly returns us to the alternate universe that she created in The Demon's Daughter and Prince of Ice. This one tells the story of Khira, an ambitious Yama scientist who is given the chance to conduct an experiment that may change the course of Yamish destiny. She gets herself a powerful backer, and the lab space she needs. All that is lacking is someone to ahem, practice on. And that turns out to be Harry, a human male from the Victorian world that Khira plucks him from... Of course, there's that sexual attraction problem that Yama have around humans, but surely Khira can handle that, right? Readers should be warned that the sexual fun and games in this one are very graphic and detailed, and may not be to the liking of everyone. To be honest, this isn't one of Holly's better works, it doesn't sizzle very much, and the characters are a bit flat. Pity. Maybe three stars, and I'm being nice about it.
Angel and the Hellraiser by Vicki Taylor is the poorest story of the lot. It's pretty much a retread of the second story, with pretty much the same characters and plot. The only thing that changes is that the genders are switched, with him a daredevil stuntman with a death wish, and she's masquerading as a reporter. Neither Zane nor Rosemary are very interesting, and the plot is nothing more than tissue paper. The writing style is simplistic, and I was fed up with the story about three pages into it. I doubt very much that I would pick up any more work by Vicki Taylor in the future. Two stars. Maybe.
All in all, this was an enjoyable read. While you're not going to get some of the deeper emotional crisis that you'll see in a longer novel, these four do manage to hit upon some important themes and topics. A few of them even have humor and may give you a smile or two.
But while the first two stories of the anthology are enjoyable, the last two are somewhat disappointing. If paranormal romance is your thing, or you're a particular fan of these authors' work, it's good for an evening's entertainment, but it's not a book to be hunting out in a hurry either. Which is really too bad, as there's a lot of opportunities here to explore, but sadly, everyone has taken the easy way out.
Three stars overall, somewhat recommended.