I try to vary my genre reading, picking up as many different authors from as many different publishers as I can. Anthologies are a great, inexpensive way to get a good sampling of the writing that helps me decide if I want to read more of a particular author's work. And the stories in them are usually just the right length for a bus ride or a lunch break.
I recently finished the anthology from Berkley Sensation - Shifter. These were all new authors and I'll review and rate each story in it.
Mad Dog Love, by Angela Knight
Princess Zerifa Lorezo has escaped a plotting chancelor, hi-jacked a private security system, bought herself a ship and taken off to meet up with her brother and his rebel alliance in secret. Along the way, she purchases werewolf Rance (Mad Dog) Conlan as an extra security measure. But the Mad Dog has his own designs, both for himself, and for Zerifa.
This story was not at all what I expected. It takes place in a futuristic/space environment where the Werewolf, Mad Dog is a member of an alien race. It's not my usual thing, but the way Ms. Knight set it up had me entranced. Her world building blew my mind. It was seamless and totally engrossing. The characters, as well, were refreshingly new and I loved the back-story that she tied in for them. The romance development and the sexual tension did feel a little under-done, more like they were a given, and didn't need to be developed. And the final climax/battle was a tad cliché. Still, the unique world that had been created held things together for me, and I breezed through it. I give it three and a half bleeding hearts.
A Jaguar's Kiss, by Lora Leigh
Natalie Richie is a normal human woman, just wrapping up a divorce and moving to teach Breed children in a high-security environment. Saban Broussard has been assigned to retrieve and protect her. But the first time he sees Natalie, he knows that she is his mate, and with his pheromone-spiked kiss, he sparks a mutual desire between them that doesn't care about their own will.
I was excited to read something by Lora Leigh. Her books have been on my radar for some time, but I've never had the time to start the Breed series. I found that her writing is very good, and her build up of sexual tension, and execution of it are highly skilled. I wasn't too fond of the mechanisms she uses to accomplish this - a kiss that sets off a chemical reaction that can't be denied, an instinct that tells the male he's found his mate. They seem like a shortcut to me, like you don't have to do any work in validating feelings. To make up for this, Ms. Leigh includes the heroine's struggle to come to terms - mostly with the loss of her independence. Still, the main antagonist was the heroine's jealous/crazy ex-husband and her own reservations. And Saban, to me, was your canned tall-dark-handsome-protector hero. The writing was good, but the story came in at a solid three bleeding hearts.
Shifter's Lady, by Allysa Day
Marie is a temple priestess in Atlanta, visiting her brother and his chosen lover on land, in Florida. Ethan is the leader of the local pride of Florida Panthers (Cougars/Pumas). But when an emergency pulls her brother away, and then blocks her portal, Marie is stuck with Ethan as he faces off with an invading pride.
Again, this story takes place in a universe that is already encompassed by several novels. It did stand alone, but I felt at times that certain things were assumed to be known that weren't. I have to say, this was the weakest story in this anthology. I'm sorry, but there has to be one, and this one was it for me. The characters seemed very two dimensional, and the tension between them was well . . . non-existent. Ethan showed promise early on, being one of those charmingly obnoxious and full of himself alpha-males, but he later shifts to the stoic leader and it just didn't work for me. Marie is supposedly a many-centuries old Atlantean, and yet she seemed like a neophite at every turn, even when using her own convenient magical abilities. The main antagonist was a pissed off leader of an invading pride, and the final battle was really just a brawl surrounded by onlookers. This story rated two bleeding hearts, simply for inventiveness, clean writing, and because I enjoyed the shifter element and how it was used.
Sea Crossing, by Virginia Kantra
Emma March has been ruined by the master of the school she used to teach in. It has left her heart-broken and penniless, so she sells herself into indenture to earn passage to America. On the way, her ship sinks. Her life is saved by a seal, and she wakes to find herself on a strange island. Griffin is an ancient being, charged by his king to retrieve a teacher for the pups(children) of his Selkie island home, but he didn't expect to fall in love with her.
My summary does not do this story justice. After the steady degrading of the ones before it, I was pleasantly surprised to find the pearl of this anthology at the end. Ms. Kantra is a beautiful, vivid writer, with a commanding voice. Her characters were richly painted and sympathetic, and their struggles were well-executed and believable. Out of the four stories, this one was the only one to truly jerk on my heartstrings. Also, I found the addition of a Selkie story to take this anthology out of the 'usual' and straight into the interesting. It definitely left me wanting more, and I will be checking out Ms. Kantra's other works. A solid four bleeding hearts.