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REVIEW:  Mirror, Mirror by J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Elaine Fox, Mary Kay McComas, R.C. Ryan

REVIEW: Mirror, Mirror by J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Elaine Fox,...

Mirror, Mirror J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Elaine Fox, Mary Kay McComas, R.C. Rya

Billed as an anthology of fairytale inspired romances, the majority of these stories turned out to be rather sweet. Although J.D. Robb’s Eve and Roarke story is fabulously dark, one should not assume the rest of the stories are going to be anything like that. I feel like that story would have fit better in an anthology that included Jeff Lindsey and Greg Iles (if those authors ever decided to do romance).

I would recommend this anthology to people who tend to like their romances on the sweeter side and tell them to skip the first story. If you’re buying this for Eve & Roarke, then just skip the rest of the book.

C for the anthology overall (Individual grades for each story are given below).

Mirror, Mirror by J.D. Robb

So what originally drew me was the promise of another Eve Dallas story. (For those unfamiliar with J.D. Robb’s “In Death” series, Eve Dallas and Roarke are the protagonists of an awesome futuristic police procedural series). However when I saw that this story revolved around kidnapping children, I kind of balked. In this story, Eve tracks down a cannibalistic twin who kidnaps her sister’s twin children. For some reason, I haven’t been quite able to stomach stories about children being hurt since I had my baby. But skimming the first few pages just sucked me in. And this was just a perfect short story, full of all the tension and suspense you would expect from a J.D. Robb short story. She truly knows how to write frightening villains and I could not put this down. However, unlike the longer length novels, there wasn’t much conflict between Eve and Roarke. Instead you just got to see how awesome Eve is at her job and just how perfectly Roarke is as a supporting partner. By far this is the best story in the anthology and I would say that this story makes the anthology an auto-buy for die-hard Eve and Roarke fans, even if the other stories are kind of meh.

If Wishes were Horses by Mary Blayney

This was real tone shift from the J.D. Robb story but definitely the next strongest story in the book. Set in 1816 England, housemaid Martha Stepp has a magical coin that seemingly grants wishes for everyone who holds it except for her. But when she wishes for “finding a man who would take her away from the servant’s life and share his bed and his world with her forever,” the coin slowly begins to grant her wish in a rather unexpected manner.

After being wounded at Quatre Bras, just before Waterloo, Sergeant James Tresbere accompanies his commanding officer and friend, the countess’s son as he returns home. Treated as an “upper servant” since James is filling in as his friend’s valet, in truth he occupies a space that is neither upstairs nor quite downstairs since he saved James’s life.

It’s a rather old fashioned sweet romance in that there are a few discussions between the two, but no physical contact When Martha is found asleep in James’s bed (fully clothed since she has a secret habit of sleeping in random unoccupied beds in the mansion), she is fired. James sets out in search of her and finds her asleep in a room at an inn. Thankfully he does not get in bed with her (because I totally hate that trope of a woman finding an unexpected man in her bed), but politely sits in the chair next to her, waiting for her to wake up. They talk, and discover that although they have feelings for one another (“I love you Jack but I do not know you as well as I would like”) they realize that they will have to take some time to get to know each other, though both are positive that they have found true love in the other. It’s a rather fairy tale romance, in that love seems to just strike like magic, rather than having a growing a relationship in the modern sense. Still considering that this is 1816, and relations between the sexes were much less casual, I suppose it worked.

Beauty, Sleeping by Elaine Fox

This was a quirky modern day take on the sleeping beauty story with a gender reversal that didn’t quite work for me, but that may be because of my own flaws as a reader. First, I’m not a fan of ghost romances. Secondly, I illogically kept picturing Michael Jackson in this story because this hero shares the same name as his kid: Michael Prince.

Cursed at birth by a fairy, Michael is a young man in the 1970s who is achieving some small success as a local news anchor. However, forgetting the curse, he cheats on a girlfriend named Deirdre Spindle. She curses him (apparently the birth curse is kind of a prophetic curse) and he disappears without a body and becomes a ghost haunting the house he lives in until the present day. When Cassandra Carlisle wins the lottery, she uses the proceeds to start a new life away from her soon to be ex-boyfriend and buys Michael’s old house. She’s the only one who can see him, and over time gradually falls for him. There are hints of them being lovers in another time, but to a reader’s disappointment, none of that is ever made quite clear.

What was neat about this story was that as a ghost, Michael had access to multiple planes of existence, including time, and we saw him relive the bitterness and sadness of his death and being unable to contact his grieving family. It was perhaps, maybe too well done , because it made the ending seem saccharinely sweet.

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

Michael recovers his body and a life with his friends and family as if he never left. This didn’t seem quite logical too me as I guess the curse must have erased the last 30-40 years of his family and friends’ life for that to happen, but oh well.


The Christmas Comet by Mary Kay McComas

I’m really not the audience for this type of story: a supersweet Christmas story with the perfectly selfless heroine and a climax that feels quite deus ex machine.

Natalie, angel of a heroine is always behind on rent, because she spends her money and time helping the homeless. As the bills pile up, Natalie takes on double shifts at the hospital where she works as a lab tech and also picks up extra shifts as an off the books motel maid, while volunteering at her church and opening her apartment to an immigrant family from Mexico.

Miles is a cop who has taken upon himself to look after her. 10 years older than Natalie, he envisions himself to be too old for her until he’s pushed by a friend. There’s a bit traditional male posturing here, with some talk about ‘protecting one’s woman.’ When Natalie is carjacked in the midst of a snowstorm, her attempts to build a fire leave her out in the cold where she sees the beauty of a Christmas comet. Falling asleep, Miles rescues her and there is of course a rather abrupt overly sweet happy ending.

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

Since this is based on a fairytale, a windfall of money also drops into her lap. The Mexican family that Natalie takes in turns out to be a wealthy family hiding from Mexican cartels because they witnessed a murder. When Natalie asks why they chose to hide with her in such humble circumstances, the response is that her reputation let them know they would be safe. I didn’t quite buy this. I couldn’t imagine some wealthy family in America allowing their family to stay in such humbled circumstances.

I almost felt like this story didn’t belong in the anthology, but then the author’s note said it was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Matchstick Girl,” which made more sense. Still, I was kind of bored by a story with a heroine that was so perfect.


Stroke of Midnight by R.C. Ryan

This Cinderella based story isn’t bad. The stepmother is truly vile and a nasty piece of work. Sydney is a bit of a gentle pushover (are all fairytale heroines such selfless innocent pushovers) who has finally found peace as an art teacher at a local community center. When her stepmother dumps off a bunch of her father’s junk at her house, Sydney discovers $5000 hidden in her father’s old shirt and a letter telling her of his hopes for her to travel to his ancestral home of Innismere, Ireland.

Taking a risk, she does just that, and meets a handsome lad named Cullen, who coincidentally is also from Innismere. A whirlwind friendship turns into an affair as he takes her physically to “a place where only lovers go,” which is about as much as you get from a sex scene. Despite accepting Cullen’s proposal, Sydney is scared off by Margot’s warning of a marriage scam designed to trap rich tourists. Of course she runs off, Cullen catches her, and Sydney finds out that Cullen is the farthest thing from being poor one could get.

I found this to be rather predictable, and overly sweet for my taste. Although there is a bit more relationship development in this story than other ones, there was something about this that felt very old fashioned, perhaps the way the single love scene was blacked out.


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REVIEW:  Carniepunk

REVIEW: Carniepunk

Dear readers,

Ah, carnivals! Cotton candy, funnel cakes, ferris wheels and rigged games. Definitely a mainstay of summer. Of course, many a novel has been written about the carnival and it was only a matter of time until a new anthology made them its theme.

carniepunkCarniepunk is one of those anthologies that features stories written by various novelists. In this case, they’re urban fantasy and paranormal authors. Some authors you’ve read, some of them you’ve heard of, and others are new to you entirely. Many of the stories are geared towards enticing readers to check out the author’s existing books; most of them are tied into their signature series. The good thing about this is that if you like a story, there are other books you can check out right away. The bad thing about it, however, is that more often than not, the short story depends too much on the reader being familiar with the series it draws upon and fails to stand on its own. Dangerous for readers who’ve never been exposed to a particular writer’s work before.

Carniepunk opens with “Painted Love,” a quirky and unusual story by Rob Thurman. The story itself is fairly average — a violent carnie with homicidal tendencies — but the reveal at the end, while rather WTF-inducing, really sticks with you. I’m still not sure whether I liked this story or not but it’s very memorable. Let’s leave it at that.

The majority of “The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah Dawson was rather ho-hum for me. Set in the world of Dawson’s Blud series, it tells the story of a girl with a sad past who has found herself in another world. Not the biggest fan of portal stories, this was a major hurdle for me. But I loved the ending, which was twisted and grim. Probably more of a horror story than a straight up urban fantasy or paranormal.

“The Demon Barket of Wheat Street” by Kevin Hearne was very much a standard UF story. Part of the Iron Druid series, I think this would appeal to fans of Jim Butcher. It’s a good enough story, but as jaded as I am about the UF genre these days, I need more to impress me than the same old “investigation, danger, fight the bad guy, win!” pattern.

“The Sweeter the Juice” by Mark Henry actually featured a trans woman as the protagonist. That’s still rare enough these days that it deserves mention. It asks the question of what happens to pre-op trans patients after the zombie apocalypse, in a world when most doctors have been killed. I’ve never been a fan of Henry’s gross out tendencies so I’m a hard sell on this story.

In Jaye Wells’s “The Werewife,” a couple finds their marriage strained after a visit to a carnival. It was an interesting examination of how the supernatural can show the cracks in a relationship, but I found the wife rather unsympathetic. That likely was the intent but I think a more nuanced portrayal would have given the husband’s choice at the end more impact.

“The Cold Girl” by Rachel Caine is my favorite story of the anthology. It’s about a teenaged girl who discovers her boyfriend has been up to no good (and not the usual “he’s cheating” no good either), what happens when he finds out she knows his secret, and how she retaliates. It’s a very well put together story, and I loved the Cold Girl and the way she shows mercy at the end.

In Allison Pang’s “A Duet with Darkness,” we return to the world of Pang’s Abby Sinclair series. I admit I wasn’t a fan of the first book, so I didn’t expect much. Because the story is a very straightforward presentation of what happens to the prideful, I found it mediocre overall. Might be worth a look for people who love music and bands, though.

“Recession of the Divine” by Hillary Jacques makes excellent use of Greek mythology without falling back on the usual suspects. A nicely self-contained short story that’s actually a short story and not a novel masquerading as a short story. Another one I liked.

“Parlor Tricks” by Jennifer Estep features characters from her Elemental Assassin series. Another story that follows the usual UF plotline. I’m normally a fan of lady assassins, but I unfortunately haven’t been able to get into this series. I think I would have been more into this story if it hadn’t fallen back on a tired cliche: the female antagonist is evil because she wants to be young and beautiful forever and will do whatever it takes to remain that way. Boring.

In “Freak House” by Kelly Meding, a half-djinn tries to find and rescue her missing father. I liked this one because it revolved around family relationships and the fact that the heroine’s father was not one of those jerkface dads you see so often in fantasy. I also thought her special ability of causing conflict was interesting.

“The Inside Man” by Nicole Peeler is set in the universe of her Jane True novels but features a different set of characters. While it relies on that now-cliche “clowns are scary” trope, I do have a weakness for female detectives. And in this case, it’s three detectives who work together and who are friends. The three women go to investigate some strange happenings but two of them fall prey to it, leaving the last one to rescue her friends and save everyone else affected. Not sure we really needed the rape backstory for one of the women, but I like the fact that all of the women were nonwhite.

Jackie Kessler’s “A Chance in Hell” picks up where her series about Jezebel the succubus left off. Jez is trying to learn about humanity in order to fight the King of Hell for his throne. Or something. I definitely felt like I was missing something. One of the weakest stories in the entire anthology, in my opinion.

“Hell’s Menagerie” by Kelly Gay is set in the world of the Charlie Madigan series and features the daughter of that series’s heroine and her quest to rescue some hellhounds who’ve been stolen for an underground fighting ring. This is one of those stories where I felt like I should have liked more than I did. Nothing is wrong with it. I just couldn’t care less what happened.

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire is a haunting story about, you guessed it, mermaids. It’s about growing up, family secrets, and relationships between mothers and daughters. It has an ending that, while not what I’d exactly call happy, hits you hard and lingers for a very long time.

Carniepunk is a mixed bag of stories. That said, I don’t think there were any stories that were standout terrible — not the case in other anthologies I’ve read — and a couple that were excellent. Overall, I think the anthology warrants a B-. Definitely worth checking out if a few of these authors interest you.

My regards,

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