Review: One Sweet Morning

One Sweet Morning is a spring themed sweet romance anthology from Roane Publishing containing 4 stories of romance and how spring can play its part.

Story 1 of 4: Spring Water by Claire Devon

Here you have two people with very different problems. One feels a need to start over after finishing her academic life, while another is faced with a debilitating fear. Riley is a fearless woman who loves her hometown of Boston, while Graham is a man struggling with the loss of his brother, and the incident which caused his death.

On the outside, both seem seductive to the other, with Riley not discovering Graham’s issues at first. The way this character deals with Graham’s behaviour is relatable, especially given her desire to move and, as a consequence, her minimal interest in commitment. The way the author brings lays out her struggle there, as well as her willingness to give the relationship a chance anyway, maintains the curiosity of how she will ultimately handle the inevitable forced decision of whether to save their romance or drop it in favor of greener pastures.

Graham is an equally interesting character. He has become almost a shell of what he could be after many crises as a result of his often crippling fear. Throughout the story, there is the hope he will overcome his fear so he could have what both he and Riley truly want.

Another nice aspect of the writing is the way the role of Riley’s best friend turns out toward the end. She isn’t just a secondary character to be used by the leading lady to hear just what she needs to at just the right time. The drama between Riley and her friend adds a nice filling to the story that gives it the feel of having a life before its beginning.

Then there is the what happens when Graham tries to come to the rescue of the heroine. It is not a fairy tale, knight in shining armor saves the princess from dragons, kind of outcome for him. What immediately follows that is, instead, unexpected. It forces the characters to face their relationship for what it is.

One thing to note in particular about this story is the specifics regarding the city of Boston during winter and spring. You can learn quite a bit about it if you read this short story, even some tips for tourists.

Story 2 of 4: Spring into Action by Theresa Kemble

Tamara is a young woman trying to make it on her own, without the input of her sometimes overbearing single father and his money, while Joe is a regular guy who makes it big as the host of a reality show about enhancing vehicles. He’s the star mechanic, she’s an assistant on the show. An unlikely pairing for a romance she admits, especially given her not quite model figure. Still, she desires him, so the question is, does he?

The set of characters in this story are familiar, and yet they bring interesting surprises from time to time. You can’t tell exactly where this story is going at first, with the evolving portrayal of Joe providing the biggest surprise.

The author does a god job of creating special leading characters, both with complications that help build the expectations for romance. The question of what the romance will look like persists for the bulk of the story. With all the twists and turns in both characters and story, there is a lot to keep the mind busy. This story could have used more time, but it makes good use of what it had to create a unique cast and unpredictable outcomes.

Story 3 of 4: Only the Heart Knows by Suzi Macdonald

Maddie is a woman caught between a man she has grown to love called Troy and her former love, and Troy’s best friend, Jack, who was thought to have died on his way to his and Maddie’s wedding day. Years later, he shows up on the wedding day of Maddie and Troy. A dead man coming back to life to storm the wedding of his former lover seems fitting for a daytime soap opera, but there is much more heated and even dark drama lying ahead.

The author did a good job of making this story easy to read. The characters are all flawed. The scenes are well laid out, and you’re not sure of what’s going to happen until big secrets are revealed. This is not a story for one looking for a truly sweet romance. This is instead more of an erotic thriller without all the erotic language. You have a single mother hoping to marry a man she thought was good for her but who is sometimes powerless around the man she had been with for a long time.

The reason Jack didn’t die like everyone had thought he did seems out of place, given the expected genre of the story, but it is most certainly a twist that adds a strong sense of mystery and confusion. What are arguably even bigger twists involve Troy. Usually, in a sweet romance story, characters are not explicitly made out to be quite so different to who they really are in the beginning. Troy starts out as this great guy Maddie feels lucky to be marrying but abruptly changes to someone quite different. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it does make this story stand out, but the specifics involving this transformation are markedly darker and more shocking than its counterparts. These are the most noteworthy things to keep an eye on about this story.

Perhaps Maddie could have put up more of a fight against Jack’s advances as all she learned about him since he returned was that he hadn’t died and she was still supposed to be with Troy. Still, Maddie makes difficult choices throughout, faces difficult situations well, and does what she feels she needs to do. A good lead for a truly drama-filled story.

Story 4 of 4: Sparkage by Kim Strattford

Chris is a woman with a nice office view. Kirk worked with her. They became good friends. Chris always wanted more, Kirk was with someone at the time. He moved away, then suddenly moves back, without a woman in tow this time. Chris wants a chance with Kirk, but she is not willing to rush anything while he and his ex are not officially over.

Chris and Kirk are fun characters. They share a love for sci-fi and fantasy and neither possess any unpalatable flaw. They are good together, and the author is able to squeeze a lot out of their relationship, even the sexual tension between them. Easy and entertaining to read, this short story has a lot, albeit in bite-sized chunks. The meddling sister and Chris’ assistant are make a nice supporting cast.

The leads have a consistent playful vibe that is only slightly tinged by the uncertainty surrounding Kirk’s love life. Chris is strong, yet patient. Kirk is not especially decisive when it comes to his ex, and yet he is when it comes to Chris. Their relationship is easy and yet complicated at the same time because of their jobs.

The progression of the story is natural, in some parts compelling, and even funny. There are also curious twists and characters that inject a bit of drama here and there but without overshadowing anyone. Chris is certainly special. She drives the story and is always a character of substance, making the story itself more than pleasant.

One Sweet Morning has four distinct stories which show how different romances can be, and how they can they can be told in different ways. There are some truly intriguing characters and good entertainment inside this anthology.

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Review: Reality Ever After

Reality Ever After is a short story from Roane Publishing focused on a woman’s internal journey and her recognition of her romantic relationship for what it truly is.

 

Ronnie (Veronica) is a successful businesswoman, Marcus is a clumsy computer engineer. They meet by chance via a modern day dating tool and hit it off. Marcus falls hard for Ronnie, while she keeps him at arms length because of a dark secret which led to her chronic distrust of men. Marcus continues to support Ronnie despite her family drama (otherwise known as her mother and Ronnie’s arch nemesis). A rash decision by Ronnie spells problems for the couple. The path from beginning to end is filled with tension, distress, romance and the odd funny moment.

Ronnie is intelligent, loyal and stubborn, and these traits are regularly highlighted  via her interactions with her family, and especially Marcus, who is a familiar character. His familiarity comes from those nerdy people often portrayed as sidekicks or as zeros-to-heroes. In this particular case, he is both and neither, depending on the perspective. He is not quite on the same level as far as the focus of the story is concerned, but he is no less real and complicated. Both characters develop naturally throughout the story, with storytelling mixed well with character exploration.

While there is appealing and significant romantic parts in this story, they do not fuel it. That role is instead taken on by Ronnie’s internal struggles. The way this is unfolded is well handled. You get only enough at first, and then, as you read on, you get dragged from one direction to another.

Along the way you also get to know some of the secondary characters quite well. In each scene you are painted an easily visualised picture, complete with a strong description of the emotional roller coaster Ronnie takes for much of the journey, a roller coaster on which you are riding shotgun.

The twists and turns are not the lightest or most sarcastic ones you will ever find, but it’s got what it takes to draw you in and keep you looking forward all the way to the ending that is most definitely worth the heartache and the why-can’t-she-just-get-out-of-her-own-way…ness.

Reality Ever After is another sharp release from Roane, with a cold, familiar world being offset by people you can’t help but root for. Romance and a strong cast of characters await, not to mention one of the most spoilt and ungrateful cats you might ever meet.

Review: Black Wings

Black Wings

Book: Black Wings
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Author: Iryna K. Combs

Black Wings is a sci-fi story about good and evil people being transformed into angel-like beings and werewolf-like creatures. There are some dark and light parts in the story and when all is considered, it is worth consideration as something to read.

The author’s background is taken into consideration. English is not her first language, but the strange thing is, that didn’t seem to be the case here at all. Instead, it might be her lack of a firm grasp of common conversation which shows. While it is clear a lot was put into this book, and it’s specific story might appeal to some people, there still is a lot of work to be done on it.

Firstly, while some of the scientific and technical details were interesting and had a sufficient sense of realistic complexity to them, there were too many times where it was lacking, so it is difficult so say whether this story truly earned the sci part of sci-fi.

The first few pages of this story reveal what is to come in terms of the writing. It starts of in a strange way. The flow was too robotic. It reads like it is coming from an automatic program recounting past events. Pieces like these would work well if they are supposed to come from a disembodied voice of a survivor perhaps, but even that would leave something to be desired. Setting a physical environment is difficult in books because you generally don’t have a visual medium to show your audience, but even considering this, it was too robotic. The characters themselves didn’t redeem much. A lot of questionable statements and strange behaviour came from the main characters. It’s not easy to relate to the kind of people they are or even just some of the decisions they made.

There were a few good sections of the writing, though. One chapter of the story detailed the torture of the main character. The author is able to create an atmosphere which is similar to real torture/struggle environments, which adds a sense of realism to the fantasy of the story. The reader gets a good idea of what it might really be like, with details of reactions to the torture and the cycle an individual might undergo while they endure weeks of it.
Still, the writing felt stilted sometimes, with parts of some sentences sounding as though they were meant for a screenplay as stage direction rather than a novel. The writing is sometimes not very nuanced while other times it is clear less (more concise wording) would have been better. The writer tends to state exactly what’s happening, when certain things should, for better or worse, be left up to the reader to identify. What’s worse is those things tend not to be difficult to spot which only magnifies the problem. At times the author further adds to the problem of a lack of nuance or simplicity in dialogue. Too many times it is hard to imagine someone using certain words or stating things in certain ways. That problem became vaguely frustrating because there was some genuinely good pieces of writing, both in terms of flow and the story itself.

The author is guilty of writing very much like a adolescent might write. She states things like ‘They all talked and enjoyed the night as they got to know each other. They became close. After becoming like family they spent weeks together while enjoying each other’s company.’ The problem is, while sometimes confining hours or even days into a few words can sometimes be necessary for brevity’s sake, the author rarely used it this way. Instead, many times situations where one might expect lengthy dialogue are only given a brief sentence. This very juvenile style greatly harms the writing and the story.

What makes the writing style very confusing are those sections of good writing. It’s as though the author had a few good scenes written but then rushed to connect them and included juvenile writing as a placeholder. If this was the case, then excuses can be accepted. However, this wasn’t a rough draft, so many questions regarding the overall quality of the writing remain. With some revisions this might turn out to be a good book. There are good story arcs, with some twists and surprises, but unfortunately this does not seem to be ready for a best-sellers list quite yet.

Ultimately I hope this story gets revised and released again. It has the potential to be something good. Until that time comes, I can only give it a rating of interesting.

Review: Summer’s Sweet Embrace

Summer's Sweet Embrace

Book: Summer’s Sweet Embrace (anthology)
Genre: Romance Anthology (Short Stories)

Authors:
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.”

Link: Roane Publishing – Summer’s Sweet Embrace

Review:
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.

Overall Rating:

General: 6/10
Subjectively Weighted: 5/10

Truly Paradise

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.

Rating:
General: 6/10
Subjectively Weighted: 6/10

Ocean Dust

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.

Rating:
General: 5/10
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.

Rating:
General: 7/10
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.

Rating:
General: 6/10
Subjectively Weighted: 7/10

Love’s Nectar

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.

Rating:
General: 6/10
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.

Rating:
General: 8/10
Subjectively Weighted: 8/10

Linger

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.

Rating:
General: 5/10
Subjectively Weighted: 2/10

Above Reproach

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.

Rating:
General: 6/10
Subjectively Weighted: 5/10

Review: Portals

Portals Cover

Book: Portals (anthology)
Genre: Fantasy

Authors:
Maronda’s Quest by Christy Thomas
Entrance of Lost Souls by Echo Shea
Mexmur, the Huntress by Anna Simpson
Where Once were Hearts by Havva Murat
Ordinary World by Laurie Treacy
The Lunatic Queen by Michael Siciliano

Description: “No matter what world you call home, or what your station in life, there are just some paths that weren’t meant to be tread.”

Link: Roane Publishing – Portals

Review:
Portals is a collection of stories revolving around a portal (illustrated above). The stories include magic, dragons, a unique troll and witches and warlocks. Romance is well represented in some and there are some solid writing to be enjoyed.

Maronda’s Quest

The writing feels slightly clumsy at times and when it is wooden it takes you out of the story. Parts of it were much better, but overall it seems as though this was much more of a first draft than even something ready for beta readers.
The characters are familiar in a bad way and the rules of the world are inconsistent as Vikings are involved yet in such a world it seemed common for women to be married when they reached adulthood. It is not clear in which century this story was supposed to have taken place. To add to the inconsistencies, the main character knows about the universe, which raises the question of the level of knowledge and technology available.
The description of the primary relationship is not subtle. The ending, while suitable for the storyline at that point, feels more rushed and it contributes to the sense the flow of the scenes wasn’t handled well. There isn’t much information regarding the immediate environment at times which creates confusion. Much of the characters’ emotions were left out and this means readers will have to do some writing of their own while they’re reading in order to complete the core of the characters.
The world in which the story lives wasn’t set well. You don’t get a clear idea of what the larger world is like.
It seems to have fallen victim to an attempt to fit a much larger story into a limited vessel. Bits and pieces were nice and suggest the writing should be much better than it is.
While the general concept of the story is not unusual, it is strange and requires the reader to realise a little too much. Good books might tend to leave much to the reader’s imagination and interpretation, but that is more down to the smaller things, such as details in faces and exact distances. It is the reader’s responsibility to conjure those images in their mind, but in this case you have to reorient yourself from time to time before continuing with the story.
This story seems like it would be much better if given the space to mature. It doesn’t seem suited or properly developed as a short story.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 3/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 4/10

Entrance of Lost Souls

This story, set in the modern world, was nicely written from the first-person perspective as it includes a lot of realistic thoughts from an interesting character. Some of the setting description is a little confusing but other than that there is little to complain about.
The story is not given an introduction, so the reader has to draw on other stories to properly form the world, which in an anthology is not a bad idea. Instead of building up an entirely new world from scratch, the author focuses on the characters while also describing her own.
The pace of the story is most certainly not slow. There is running as the main character chases something one minute and is being chased the next. The focus might be more on action than emotion, but there is still some emotional moments in the story, which round it off. There are multiple different elements, including mystery, thriller, action, adventure as well as comedy sprinkled here and there.
The main character, a troll of special design both in terms of its physical attributes and personality, gives the story an appealing attitude. She’s relatable in the way she thinks about things and deals with other people. It’s reminiscent of Buffy in that sense. At the end of the day she’s just a being trying to make a living, albeit a distinctly odd living and one which more than a few people would like.
The writing is not void of problems, such as certain plausibility and perhaps continuity issues, but they are so minor they don’t impact the story heavily and may even go unnoticed. The reader does have to ignore various questions brought up by the troll’s current situation and how it really goes about its job, but there is a dog present with a fun personality and it is something the reader can enjoy as it shows its worth in a nice partnership between canine and troll. The secondary characters are painted well enough given this is a short story, although they don’t seem to be given enough attention.
There are quite a few questions left unanswered but the story itself is enjoyable and getting to knowing the troll should be fun for many.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 7/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 7/10

Mexmur, the Huntress

The story begins well and shows a lot of promise but that isn’t quite realised. The laws of the world aren’t well-defined and as a result it is not clear what type of magic is involved and how it interacts with the rest of the world. The focus of all of the stories in this anthology is the portal on the cover, but this story did not properly outline what that world really was. Even though the main character does not know, the author should have provided that explanation better to answer questions and/or provide closure.
The description of the only magical creature present is nice. The dragon is unique, and a little strange as far as its agenda goes. The rest of the story shares that problem. This may be a short story, but what makes these good is an economic use of words. The reader might be left just as confused as the main character by the unfolding events and her personality is not set up well to feel natural. In addition, the title of the story and the story itself don’t really seem to work, something which is highlighted at its end.
The huntress is supposed to be a key figure but really is just carried along for the ride as she does not even really make any major contributions to the outcome other than protecting a dragon from immediate harm. There also wasn’t another character to take the reins of the story, making it simply move along as though it was a storm and the characters in it were just pieces of debris being tossed around for a while.
Overall, the writing was decent and the scenes were well set. The happy ending in it seems like it really shouldn’t have been there as it feels both rushed and inconsistent with the characters involved. Nevertheless, there were some original aspects of the story, and one in particular, regarding fairy tales, which was a pleasant touch to it.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 4/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 5/10

Where Once were Hearts

The best part of this story is the quality of the writing. It’s something which you might expect from a well selling novel. The flow of the story also works well with the length limit. The reader can read from start to finish and not feel as though anything was rushed or the story was merely a piece of something larger. While the beginning of the story is a little strange, the rest of it makes up for the slight confusion involved in understanding the setting and how the portal is used. Although the portal is not given much focus, it serves its purpose. It’s inclusion visually in the story is not the best, and almost feels like a secondary addition, but after that the story picks up.
The portrayal of each character is good, as is the colourful personalities. The entire story reads as a horror with a twist, coming in the form of romance made possible by the oddity of the main character. He has a conscience which seems unrealistically strong, especially given the life-threatening situation. While his actions seem a little much, given he is willing to do extraordinary things for someone he has just met, the story does not suffer too much from it.
Simply reading this story is enjoyable, even if the genre and setting is not preferable to a reader. It does not suffer from such issues like words being repeated too close to each other as is the case from time to time in other stories in this anthology. The fairly original element, being the mix of magic and technology, running throughout the story is not given a good background but fortunately the focus of the story is more on character interaction.
This story is worth reading just for the sake of reading and the exposure of interesting characters.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 7/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 8/10

Ordinary World

The atmosphere of this story becomes clear at a very early stage. The author’s history of contemporary romance is put on display on many occasions and drives the bulk of the story, so much so the fantasy and the anthology’s theme is not introduced until late on and with a flurry at the end. It is also notably longer and flows very differently than the other stories, due in part to the diary-like structure. That said, it was well written and entertaining. The various elements showing the main character’s teenage life as well as her modern and supernatural struggles are well woven into the tale. Nothing seems forced or given a lack of attention.
One unfortunate, largely circumstantial, fault of the story is the contemporary setting and style of all but its latter stages. It seems out of place entirely in this fantasy anthology and continues for quite a while with its suitability left in question. That does not impact on the story, though, as it is sufficiently interesting and natural to keep the reader nourished with an innocent, warm and funny teen romance as well as odd adult characters. In any event, such a style is not unknown, and if the reader remains mindful the story will change, it will be entertaining for them.
The main character is likeable, relatable and sweet with a pleasant twist of fire. She dominates the story and is made to do so well. The magic component is very familiar. The author uses some of the modern pop references she included to add substance economically. The additional references, to video games and cosplay are a nice surprise and work well with the story and characters, each of which have their own distinct personality and add their own colour.
The only significant faults to the story are some isolated instances of cumbersome writing, some slightly common (cheesy/corny/…) emotional pieces and to some there might be some unwanted predictability present, although the rest of it was used well. In the end, however, these faults do not harm the quality of the story much. Perhaps the end was not up to the level of the rest, but given that level, that is not much reason to feel disappointed.
This story has a pleasantly surprising amount of substance of a full-length novel and is very much worth the read for fans of fantasy and contemporary romance alike.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 8/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 8/10

The Lunatic Queen

The most striking things about this story are the eastern European theme and its more mature sequences. This is certainly not one which should be read to children, as there is a dark sexual situation, albeit brief, and a scene involving intimate murder. While the latter is present in the other stories in this anthology, the deaths are as emotional and dark as the ones in this one.
The writing itself was good. The characters were well-formed and interesting. The storyline was so similar enough to other tales its lack of background was not necessary. The plight of the main characters, a young couple, were obvious, as was the urgency of their situation. The emotional bond they shared was handled well, given the literal and metaphorical darkness involved in the story.
The ending may have been poetic in a sense, but it was a little abrupt and strange. Still, it did not damage the value of what came before it. One of the obstacles of the protagonists were creatures which were both familiar and fairly unique. Much of the story was brutal, but the ultimately it is a tale of struggle, desperation and love which seems like it should be better than it is.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 7/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 6/10