After yesterday’s rant about the weather in the Midwest, today is absolutely lovely, with temperatures in the 70s and lots of sunshine. If the weather were like this more often, I’d be thrilled. Great summer weather leads to thoughts of summer vacations, and there are lots of new releases out right now to take with you. I think publishers plan book releases around the end of school so we readers can take our paperbacks or e-readers with us to enjoy by the pool, but if you’re busy seeing the sights on your vacation, you probably don’t have time to read an entire novel. A great way to enjoy good writing without having to invest a lot of time is to read an anthology.
I like anthologies, because it gives me a chance to read new authors without a huge time investment. I usually only purchase anthologies with novellas by authors I like, but invariably those books include someone I’ve never heard of. I’ve discovered some really great new authors that way. Unfortunately, one downside to anthologies is that there are almost always two great novellas and two not-so-great ones. A great exception is the new release, Hexed. I was excited to read it, since it features two of my favorite authors, Ilona Andrews and Allyson James. I thought I’d do a quick review of Hexed, then tell you a little bit about some of my all-time favorite Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy anthologies.
“Magic Dreams” by Ilona Andrews was by far the best entry in the anthology. The novella is part of Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, and features the romance between Cat Shifter Alpha Jim and blind-as-a-bat white tiger shifter Dali. This would actually be a great introduction to the series, as there’s a short description of how the magical shift caused drastic changes in Atlanta. The romance between the kick butt mercenary Jim and the insecure but loveable Dali is a hoot. Definitely an A in my book.
“Ice Shards” by Yasmine Galenorn is the second entry in the collection and is part of her Otherworld series. I haven’t read any of the novels in this series, but I was able to follow along fairly easily. Unfortunately I just didn’t find the narrator Lady Iris, a sprite, all that intriguing. The story revolves around her returning to her world with friends to discover if she truly is guilty of a crime she was accused of centuries ago. While not a bad story, it didn’t really interest me. C-
“Double Hexed” by Allyson James is the third novella in the book and I really liked it. It takes place in the Stormwalker universe and features stormwalker Janet Begay and her dragon lover, Mick. The plumbing in Janet’s hotel starts spewing blood, and she and several other characters are trapped in the hotel because of a hex. I’ve read the first two novels in James’ Stormwalker series, and this was a fun addition. I think you would still enjoy the story even if you haven’t read any of the novels. B+
“Blood Debt” by Jeanne C. Stein was the last novella in the collection and enjoyable, if not inspired. I had never read anything by this author, but I like the protagonist, a bounty hunter recently turned vampire. The narrator has to face a trial over killing a witch, which occurred in an earlier book, but it’s easy enough to follow what happens in the novella. Oddly enough, I was a couple pages into the story before I could figure out if the protagonist was male or female. B
Must Love Hellhounds This anthology is my all-time favorite. It features 3 outstanding novellas by authors I love, and you just can’t go wrong with this one. The first entry, “The Britlingens Go to Hell,” is a bizarre story by Charlaine Harris that I recommend you skip. It’s not worth reading. The following three, however, are gold. The second novella, “Angels’ Judgment,” is by Nalini Singh and is part of her Guild Hunters series. We learn how the Guild Director, Sara, meets her hottie husband, Deacon. The third story is “Magic Mourns,” by Ilona Andrews, and was just released separately as an e-novella. It’s part of Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, and was my first introduction to this author. The fourth entry is “Blind Spot,” by Meljean Brook, and is part of her Guardian series. I’ve only read one of the Guardian novels, and was underwhelmed, but this novella is short and sweet. Sir Pup (the hellhound) is a hoot.
Inked is another favorite anthology with three great novellas by favorite authors. The first novella, “Skin Deep,” is by Karen Chance. Chance writes the Cassandra Palmer series, which I’m not a huge fan of, but this is a lot of fun. It takes place in the Palmer universe and features half-werewolf and mage Lia and her Harley riding hunk Cyrus. The second entry is Marjorie M. Liu’s “Armor of Roses,” which is the darkest novella in the book. It’s part of her Hunter Kiss series, and I’m not sure you can just jump right in without having read previous installments. However, I’m a huge fan of Ms. Liu’s writing and this is an outstanding addition to her series. “Etched in Silver” by Yasmine Galenorn is the third novella and my least favorite. Just like her entry in Hexed, this takes place in the world of her Otherworld series. I felt a bit lost when reading it, so I usually skip it. The final entry is Eileen Wilks’ “Human Nature” and it’s fabulous. If you haven’t read any of Wilks’ World of the Lupi books, you should, because the characters are complex and the books are action-packed. This novella is no exception.
Unlike the previously mentioned anthologies, in Burning Up there are really only two strong novellas, but I find myself re-reading those two frequently. The first novella is “Whisper of Sin” by Nalini Singh, and it’s part of her Psy-Changeling series. We learn how human Ria meets leopard shifter Emmitt. Great story and a fun prequel to Singh’s series. The second entry is Angela Knight’s “Blood and Roses,” and you can easily follow along without having read any of her other books. Unfortunately, it just didn’t hold my interest, and the romance felt rushed, which happens frequently with a story of this length. “Shifting Sea” by Virginia Kantra is the third novella of the collection. It’s both historical and fantasy, since the story is about a mermaid and a soldier returning home from the war on the Peninsula. Well-written, but not my favorite. The final entry, Meljean Brook’s “Here There Be Monsters,” is outstanding. It’s the prequel to her steampunk novel The Iron Duke, and I couldn’t wait to read the novel after reading this novella. I highly recommend it.