By Amanda Ashley, Maggie Shayne, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Ronda Thompson.
This is a collection of four paranormal romance novellas.
"Darkfest" by Amanda Ashley: Darkfest is an immortal wizard lord/werewolf (okay, at least he turns into a wolf all the time). Channa Leigh is the beautiful blind girl in the nearby village he's secretly in love with.
...Okay, I have to start out by saying that I hate the names in this book. Someone really named their precious baby boy "Darkfest?" As for "Channa Leigh," it kinda sounds like "Shanda Lear." Also, it didn't exactly sound like a name someone would make up way back in the past (note that the book takes place in"a distant land before recorded time") , and sounded more like the kr8tiv spelling some folks come up with. "Channa Leigh" is repeated many times on each page and it did not grow on me with repetition. So regardless of the rest of the plot, I felt sorry for characters named those things and I don't like having to call them by their actual names here because it makes me feel ridiculous.
Anyhoo: Darkfest discovers that when he's turned into a wolf and Channa Leigh is touching his wolfiness, she can see. Despite being a guy who can heal anyone he effing well wants, he can't figure out how to heal her blindness and is stumped as to how his wolf form fixes it. The plot kind of goes "Beauty and the Beast"-ish when Darkfest heals Channa Leigh's sick mom and asks for her to live with him for a year as payment. Channa Leigh has a token fiance, but she doesn't give a shit about him and was settling, so whatever. Darkfest then takes her home to have her work as his serving girl, where she can totally prepare him a meal after she just moved into his place where she doesn't know oh, anything very well. Call me crazy, but I find it hard to believe that a blind chick can make a meal without injuries, burning, problems, etc. in The Land Before Time, but especially not when she's been plunked into a new environment. I've read "I'll Take Manhattan," a book that goes into great detail as to how a blind character can learn to cook in the 1980's, so I find it pretty difficult to picture this poor girl doing all the cooking with rudimentary tools, open flame, not knowing the layout of the house like the back of her hand, what have you.
Wolfy Darkfest (who she names "Magick") only shows up at night, so he comes to visit Channa Leigh all the time and she gets to see things and loves it. Eventually she wants to see the master of the house, who's conveniently never in his bedroom at night, so Darkfest figures out a spell by using his wolf's fur, which is put into a tight braid (how long is wolf's fur and how much did Channa Leigh cut off of it?!) and then she can see him for a day. They go off to some local dragon to get some of his blood to try to come up with a blindness cure.
Okay, so I find a lot of implausibilities and the names are lame, so it's not really my sort of story and kinda twee by my tastes. But she does build the romance well, so there's that. By itself, I'd give it 2.5 stars.
"Phantom Lover" by Sherrilyn Kenyon: This seems to take place in the usual universe that this author writes in, featuring the same kind of dream world thing as in this book. I wasn't overly fond of the whole dream world plot thing back then and I don't think I am now either. There's a species of creature called the Skotos that just roams around your dreams being all nightmare-y and sometimes trying to eat your soul. Normal ol' human Erin is being plagued by 'em because she hasn't been using her creativity IRL--she got nastily shamed when she tried in the past. (All writers will wince.) She hasn't slept well in quite some time. While at work minding her own business one day, suddenly she uh, falls into dreamworld or something and is getting attacked by Skotos. A dream-creature-fellow named V'Aidan rescues her, and then they have tons of sex. They soon fall into a dream-relationship where Erin constantly wants to be asleep so they can get back to the dream-dating and the dream-sexing. Meanwhile, at least one of her co-workers is acting really suspiciously strange about the whole thing and refers Erin to see her shrink boyfriend, Rick Sword.
AGAIN WITH THE BAD NAMES. EVEN WORSE THIS TIME. I hate apostrophe names--this book also has M'Ordant and Krysti'Ana. And really, Rick Sword? That's only slightly more classy than "Dick Roman" on Supernatural this season. So yeah, HATING THE NAMES EVEN WORSE HERE.
Back to the plot, V'Aidan isn't allowed to have feelings and gets beaten all the time for just wanting love like everyone else, and he's going to get punished out the wazoo for falling in love with Erin. And...well, it gets weirder from there. Erin seems to be the point of a minor conspiracy and without going into spoilers for a novella* (okay, I'll mention below the cut), it's just pretty creepy. Sure, it ends happily**, but mostly I just found it all strange and kind of off-putting, and while it's part of the plot that V'Aidan is all "I am nothing without her!", it still felt kinda ick. By itself: two stars.
"Under Her Spell" by Maggie Shayne: This was the actual GOOD ONE in the book. I actually got fed up with the first two and started skipping ahead, and had this one sucked too I think the whole thing would have been a "did not finish" with no review. Remember how when reading Stitches in Time I was totally annoyed with the lack of actual research done about witchcraft? Well, clearly the author Knows Of What She Speaks and is a giant research nerd at the same time, because she makes a point of going into great detail about how things are actually done. Maybe a bit too much detail for the idle romance reader, but I appreciated her sense anyway.
Melissa is a expert on witchcraft, teaches classes, has degrees, etc. and has been hired to be the technical consultant on a new paranormal TV show called "The Enchantress," which is losing viewers rapidly due to its cheesy badness--and presumably its total lack of accuracy. The show's creator, Alexander Quinn, knows it's got problems and wants to make the show right. But he also has his own creeping paranormal problem that needs help...albeit not maybe what he expected. Melissa and Alexander have the major psychic "you're the one for me" whammy going on, but she senses the Bad Dark Shit hanging around him--especially in the inverted pentacle around his neck.
Alexander seems to have inherited some magic powers from his father, who he never knew and only tracked down the house of after his father's death. Now Alex is living in the house and the housekeeper is working on initiating a transfer of power to him. However, Melissa does some research and finds out that Alex's mother ran away from his father and stuck him in an orphanage to get him AWAY from the guy. Dad was pure evil, and he's looking from beyond the grave to get his son too. But Melissa's determined to save his ass.
I really liked this one- the romance is built well, the plot's a little predictable but still well done. I'm a little amused that accuracy of portrayal helped up the ratings, but...well, I guess that's the point of a technical consultant, so uh, whatever. I dunno about having Alex get involved with a girl who looks like his mother, but since he didn't get raised by the woman, I...guess...it's not so bad? Anyway, by itself, this gets 4 stars.
"A Wulf's Curse" by Ronda Thompson: Elise is a young woman running away from a shitty arranged marriage. She begs passage with a traveling troupe of performers (supposedly as the new naughty scarf dancer, but she doesn't end up doing much of this) and gets romantically involved with Sterling, the Beast Master. As you probably already figured out by the title, dude has...you know, reasons for hanging out with a troupe of weird people and thinks there might be a problem with getting romantically involved with anyone. Even those Elise somehow doesn't exactly become a performer so much, she gets along with most of the troupe. But there's still her evil uncle to deal with...
Now, I have some plot quibbles with this too. Not the names so much, thank god (I'll give "Wulf" a pass given the subject matter), but:
(a) The snake lady is just one-note predictable evil. Feh.
(b) The other troupe characters aren't overly done either. Most of Elise's social life with them is talking to the daughter of two little people, who is flat out ashamed of having short parents. Since Elise had no parents, she's all, "Hey, at least you have some and they love you." I totally agree, mind you, but it's kind of oddly preachy and brought up a lot.
(c) Elise's uncle is also one-note evil, who talks about like this: "Oh, yeah, I don't care if she's lost her virginity by now. Her future husband just loves to beat his wives." If I were this fellow, I might think a bit about saying this kind of shit to oh, anybody, even if it's another dude who you assume is totally down with the wife-beating. It doesn't motivate some folks so much to find your lost girl for you there, buddy.
(d) I can't help but wonder how well giant cats would deal with having a werewolf Beast Master. Wouldn't that be an...issue.. for them?
But despite all of those, it was still better than the other two stories. By itself, I'd give it three stars.
Overall, the book gets two and a half stars for being "kinda not so good" to "all right, I guess" for most of it.
* You probably figured out that creepy Chrissy at work was involved in this...but hell, even Erin's boss is some oracle and she's the only normal one in this story. Yes, that's creepy that her boss knew what was going on and just...you know, let it...and then is all, "hey, sucks to be in love with an immortal, huh? Btw, he's burning in hell right now." Sure, he helps in the end, but still, it's weird.
** I'm still wondering how the hell one starts a life as a human from scratch with no birth certificate, no SSN, any of that stuff...