Book: Summer’s Sweet Embrace (anthology)
Genre: Romance Anthology (Short Stories)
Truly Paradise by Michelle Ziegler
Ocean Dust by Laurie Treacy
The Beach Rose by Christa MacDonald
When the Sea Swallows the Sun by Kim Strattford
Love’s Nectar by Jaylee Austin
Love’s High Tide by Niki Mitchell
Linger by Melissa J. Crispin
Above Reproach by Sheryl Winters
Description: “Summertime love is always the sweetest. These eight sweet tales of summer romance are the perfect companion for a day at the lake or the beach.”
Summer’s Sweet Embrace is an anthology of eight short stories written on the theme of summer, specifically the beach. The stories range from pleasantly sweet and interesting to strange and unbalanced. Below are reviews for each of the short stories followed by a summary review. Ratings will be provided as a means for readers to summarily get the gist of the review. Each story will be assigned a general rating, which will be made based on an objective assessment of the qualities of the story, and a personal rating, which I will make based on the general rating and how I personally felt about the piece.
Overall “Summer’s Sweet Embrace” has some solid stories in it which on their own should be worth getting this anthology.
Subjectively Weighted: 5/10
by Michelle Ziegler
The story starts out aggressively. Because you have no backstory you’re left wondering what the hell happened, and unfortunately it takes a little bit of time for that question to be answered. In addition to that there seemed to be a lot of space given to setup. Often writers would space out details so their work feels natural or they just don’t want to overload the reader with too much information and too little story. While this was not an example of an extreme, there was too much all at once. It would have been helpful to be able to sympathise with the character, especially given what happened during the opening few pages.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take too long before the true story begins and you get introduced to the main characters. They seem to have genuine chemistry right away.
Hailey and Justin are thrown into a partly amusing and very interesting scenario when they meet. They don’t know who the other is, and don’t realise how closely linked their lives have been for a while before they meet on the trip they’re on with their friends.
You’re shown the perspectives of both Hailey and Justin, and the author takes good advantage of this at times. Their relationship is explored in fun and interesting situations which are themselves worth a read. And while I find the ending needed more work, and perhaps a fair bit more space, the story itself was a pleasant read.
Subjectively Weighted: 6/10
by Laurie Treacy
Let’s start of with the good here. The author is a good writer. The passion in the words and the description of scenes are good. They draw you in well. The characters are colourful and interesting in that they go from fairly usual to fairly unusual. Carly and Chase are like a lot of teenagers. She is introspective and he seems like he was an averagely good guy. However, the story, as a whole, does not match the writing.
It starts disconnected from the main storyline. The introduction reads as if it were meant to be a deep reflective poem and at times jumps between that and setting the scene. It certainly takes a while for the story to actually start and a longer while for the reader to get to know the character.
Before the characters interact, the story takes a very unexpected turn from reflection to fantasy. Shapeshifting is the focus of the story from what I can tell, not so much the romance. In fact, I’d say romance, and the summer and beach theme for that matter, are incidental to this short story. It also feels like it was part of or meant for a full-length book rather, given the emotional changes Carly undergoes. The supernatural aspect of the story also serves to further steer the story away from real emotion and story in favour of very sexually charged interactions which never actually go anywhere.
To give you an idea of exactly how strange the story is I’ll describe something Chase says to Carly. So, he’s a shapeshifter. It’s hereditary. It involves him transforming into a bird. He doesn’t live with his parents and nobody, including himself, the couple who raised him, and Carly knew about what he really was. When he disappears from everyone’s lives, he’s forgotten, although that point isn’t made until well into the story, which adds to the confusion surrounding it. The author explains this by having Chase tell Carly his image disappears from images, including on digital devices, and people just attribute that to gaffes of some kind. I find it bizarre people would just look at a gap the size of a person, in say a group photo, and just dismiss that, and all the countless similar pictures, as a mistake. Given the current atmosphere of sharing media online, surely people would start connecting the dots between multiple cases of this. To make matters worse, Chase says because they shared a connection (they apparently were in love and had sex once), she didn’t forget him as soon as everyone else did. While this isn’t the worst flaw in a story you’ll ever see, it certainly was uncomfortable to read and felt raw.
There are moments of serious passion between the characters, and there are tender moments when they first interact, but outside of that the story is confusing and lacks opportunities for the reader to start to care for the characters. I don’t like stories involving shapeshifting, but that wasn’t anywhere near the biggest problem I had while reading this short story.
Subjectively Weighted: 3/10
The Beach Rose
by Christa MacDonald
This is one of the nice surprises you get every now and then in these anthologies. You tend to go into sweet romance pieces hoping for something without too much external drama to the 2 main characters but with enough spark between them to keep the story interesting and “The Beach Rose” is an example of this.
It starts out a little strangely in respect to where it ends up. The background for the female lead is extensive and detailed to the point it seemed better suited to a more involved story. As it is the beginning, which means you don’t know much about the character, it can feel a little excessive as you’re waiting to learn about the person they are. After this section, fortunately, the story picks up.
Annie and Craig are truly likeable characters. Neither of them are pushovers, but neither of them are very stubborn. The author sets their scenes well, making the beach and summer theme a true backdrop to the story.
The writing flows well. It’s at a good pace for the length. In a way it reads like a full-length novel, complete with a solid backstory which in turn actually has a solid theme vis-à-vis family. It was also interesting enough to keep me reading at a good pace throughout it. That is partly down to the natural progression of the unusual relationship between Annie and Craig. They have some romantic conflict at first, but then their close past begins to bring them closer and there are good intimate and cute moments between the couple.
“The Beach Rose” is another good read and a good fit for the anthology. It’s what you might go in expecting.
Subjectively Weighted: 8/10
When the Sea Swallows the Sun
by Kim Strattford
The story fits the anthology very well. You’re immediately introduced to the summer theme with a character looking to go on vacation, with a beach location in mind.
One of the good points about this piece is the characters. Emma and Rick are interesting and likeable, with nice friction creating a good amount of tension when they begin to interact. They’re at odds because of an identity misunderstanding in their past, and it makes for interesting dialogue between them.
A negative aspect of this piece is the number of slightly clumsy writing. Sometimes a writer might have trouble reconciling what they want the reader to know with what “reads well”. It seems the author did not want to make too many sacrifices for the sake of balance. There is too much detail in places, other points begin abruptly, others are not integrated well with the rest, others are long. Fortunately, these don’t have a major impact on the piece as a whole.
The storyline itself is interesting enough to hold it up. The author is able to describe a few things very well, especially the internal dialogue for Emma which helps the reader understand her well. The final scene has a few good moments. Overall there are some funny moments and the story a fun one to explore.
While the transition of the characters relationship from frosty to compassionate seemed a little sudden and the story perhaps suffering from the restriction on length, it still is a pleasant read.
Subjectively Weighted: 7/10
by Jaylee Austin
This one is a little tricky to judge mainly because of the area of the relationship between Isabel and Seth which is given focus. Instead of the story being about romance, it is devoted to Isabel’s family dilemma. Seth even seems like a tool the writer is using to create more problems for Isabel to overcome. Even though there is a good romantic scene between Isabel and Seth in the beginning, too little time is given to them.
The writing itself was solid. The description of the scenes and the character’s behaviour are fine. The story itself is a good one. It’s a drama revolving around a woman who is trying to keep an important family secret while grappling with her crumbling relationship with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, the story itself does not fit in the anthology in regard to either the sweet romance genre or the summer/beach theme. They make an appearance, but once again there isn’t a match for the “summertime love is always the sweetest” picture painted for the anthology.
In addition, the story didn’t seem focused on one problem and as a result none of them held much weight. Some of the moments of passion and tenderness felt a little out of place or forced. The story seemed more like it was written as one of those which are meant to explore a particular theme or struggle in life rather than a character. In fact, if Seth was a little more understanding and a little less hung up on trust issues, the story might not have had any romantic tension whatsoever. What magnifies these problems further is the ending of the story. Quite a few pages at the very end are devoted to a problem not even involving Seth, and one which wasn’t given enough time to allow most readers to get attached to the characters involved in it.
As a romantic tale, this doesn’t work. As simply a drama it might work.
Subjectively Weighted: 4/10
Love’s High Tide
by Niki Mitchell
This type of story is one I like a lot because you get to a strong romance, you get to explore the somewhat unfiltered minds of the lead characters, there’s some strong conflict which leads to a strong finale.
Skye is a good surfer and Harley is a guy on a vacation. He sees her, wants to date her, she resists his advances despite liking what she sees, he falls for her, she falls for him, there’s conflict, it works out. That may be a spoiler, but I don’t see it as one since so many stories follow that pattern or something very similar.
“Love’s High Tide” is one of the more passionate stories in the anthology. The relationship between Skye and Harley is the centre of attention, the progression is natural in both the plot and the writing. The pace is good. You have likeable characters and while there are those that aren’t very likeable they aren’t too bad, which means you don’t get caught up in feeling annoyed or upset with any of them.
Sky and Harley have some good intimate moments and their interactions are interesting and written well. There are a lot of emotions and passion and the supporting cast is not intrusive.
The only bad things I can really find to say about this one is I don’t really like the name Harley for the male lead, the resolution to the romantic conflict is too Hollywood for my tastes, and the story could have used a few more tender scenes.
This is definitely a recommended read.
Subjectively Weighted: 8/10
by Melissa J. Crispin
There isn’t too much to say about this one. It doesn’t fit the anthology in terms of genre or theme. It is very confusing in places and over the top in others. Basically, Tracey is separated from Noah when he dies, but it should have been made clear she died at the same time as well. While that is a spoiler, I state it because I felt like that would have been very useful information while I was reading this.
The writing is good and the characters are interesting. There is a nice intimate scene in the beginning, but after that the story drops romance as a theme, full stop. When it picks up again it is in this very over the top afterlife sequence which makes me cringe a little. Maybe there are people who would read this and enjoy that element of it, but it just serves to add another dimension of disappointment and it weakens the story.
The best part is the dog. The beach is also incidental in this story, and the story started well. Unfortunately, it was not worth the read.
Subjectively Weighted: 2/10
by Sheryl Winters
“Above Reproach” is an interesting story. It involves cancer, making up for lost time, and going after a long desired career. Margaret and Garrett work together in his company. They’ve known each other for a very long time. They finally enter a relationship with each other and find they are a good match.
In the story one of them claims they’re dying. In truth, that’s only partly true. Cancer only means death if it reaches a certain point, which varies depending on type and aggression. That is why I felt annoyed when it turned out the cancer was cured. and what the character should have said was something more like they might be dying, especially when they had only recently started treatment when the announcement is made.
Moving past that, the beginning is confusing, It takes a while for the writer to inform the reader of even where the scene is set and what exactly is going on. Also, the Garrett in the beginning seems too different from the one in the latter part of the story based on the explanations given for the change.
Once the relationship gets going, there is a nice tender and passionate scene between Margaret and Garrett. They are likeable characters who are interesting and a little fun. The supporting cast for the story is also solid.
The ending, with the whole fast forwarding fifteen years into the future thing, feels a little out of place. It reminds me of the numerous movies which focus on some major event or problem and the two characters who are supposed to be in a relationship suddenly resolve any conflict they have between them at the end to allow the story itself to end well. While “Above Reproach” has good moments prior to the ending, it still feels out of place. It’s a little too “happily ever after”, a little too sentimental.
However, it was written well and was wasn’t a bad read.
Subjectively Weighted: 5/10