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

>> Sunday, January 25, 2004

I've just finished Charmed, an anthology with a Halloween theme, which contains all paranormal stories.

The first story, Bridal Jitters, by Jayne Ann Krentz writting as Jayne Castle was the reason I bought this anthology. This one, like many of her other books written under that pseudonym, is a paranormal futuristic.

In the distant future, an official marriage-of-convenience between paranormal business partners is almost called off -because of love
This was a gem of a story. An A-.

No matter how many times I read versions of this story (and I've read a few, by JAK alone), they always work like a charm. That scene, with the hero suffering from terminal horniness after using his paranormal powers, and trying so hard to stay in control and not jump the heroine, because he fears she'll be scared and all will be over if he does, and yet he can't help it... wow, stomach clenching all the way!

Here we have a story with good world-building, a lovely relationship and that feels right for its length. I've said it a hundred times, but the short stories that work better are those which don't cover the whole relationship, but just a crucial part of this. This one starts with them already in love (they don't yet know how the other feels, though) and already engaged to have a marriage of convenience. Perfect.

The second story was by a new-to-me author, Julie Beard, and the title was Man in the Mirror

Man in the Mirror takes a young woman struggling to find her way in a fast-paced world and propels her back in time to King Arthur's Court, into the arms of Tristan of Ilchester. There a chance encounter with the wizard Merlin and tending to the wounded Tristan give Katie new direction and the knowledge to make her dreams come true.
This one didn't work at all for me. A D+.

First of all, I'm just not fond of time-travels, so I might be a little harder on this than someone who's fond of the genre. Still, the whole time travel aspect felt preposterous. It was as if the author kept forgetting that the hero was supposed to be from the 6th century, so he spoke like a modern hero would, until the author remembered who he was supposed to be, and then he'd say he didn't know a random word the heroine had used. It just felt very careles.

Also, I felt the author tried to cram so much into 80 pages, that it all felt underwritten. Parts of it had an almost "videogame" kind of feel to them. And even the romance failed, miserably. I didn't get to know the hero at all, and the heroine not much. Just boring. The only reason this wasn't an F was that the settings were nicely done.

The third story was Tangled Dreams, by Lori Foster. This story is about the brother of the hero from the story in the Hot Chocolate anthology, which I read last summer.

In Tangled Dreams, a pair of ghostly lovers conspire to bring together shy Allison Barrow and sexy bartender Chase Winston to recover a treasure long missing. Along the bumpy way, Allison and Chase discover fantasy-fulfilling depths of passion and a danger that threatens it all.
This one had an interesting story, and there's no denying that Lori Foster knows how to do sexual tension you could cut with a knife, but some things about it bothered me. Still, a B-.

My main problem was that in spite of the great sexual tension, I found the sex distasteful, when they finally got to it. Thing is, Chase was a guy who needed to dominate in bed. Plain and simple. This wasn't an extension of how he was out of it, or anything -it wasn't a case of a man who couldn't bear to be with an independent, intelligent woman and needed a doormat: far from it! He was just... kinky? Got off from tying his partner up and dominating her, and this seemed to be pretty much the only way he could get off. And Allison loved this. While I don't disapprove or anything, and actually their relationship seemed to me pretty healthy, it just didn't do anything for me. Thus, lots of sexual tension and no payoff.

I wasn't crazy about the fact that Allison was a virgin (absolutely no need for it at all) and how Chase seemed to have a self-image of himself as a sex-god. Still, the story was enjoyable, even if I wish the author had gone somewhere else with it.

Finally, the last story was by an author I've been meaning to try for some time, Eileen Wilks. Its title was Pandora's Bottle.

Pandora Kitlock's fiancé John has a secret. He tries to tell Dora about it during their first intimate weekend tryst, but something--or someone--keeps interfering: Jack, John's alter ego who has all the passionate impulses of your typical genie. John tells Dora she has to choose between them and Dora is faced with the toughest decision of her life.
I quite liked this one, a B.

I liked the world-building, though it could have used a little more background -the usual problem in a short story. What was there was quite fascinating, though, a regular world, but one where magical beings have "come out of the closet". Wilks makes good use of it with a fun plot.

The romance itself was nice, and quite original. I think I'll be doing some searching for this author's backlist.

With an excellent story, a bad one and two nice ones, my grade for the whole anthology is a B.


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