Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Review: Anthology MASTERS OF SEDUCTION by Marsha Canham, Virginia Henley, Jacque D’Alessandro, Jull Gregory, Sherri Browning Erwin and Julie Ortolon: A Sampler of Appetizing Stories from Master Romance Writers

I don’t ordinarily like anthologies (not enough story for me) but when I saw that master romance writers Marsha Canham, Virginia Henley, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Jill Gregory, Sherri Browning Erwin, and Julie Ortolon had a new one that weaves six tales together involving a magic mirror pendant over the centuries, I just had to have it.  

I do have a few comments that might help you with this one. First, the title is not descriptive of what’s inside. There are no masters of seduction in this anthology; I’m not sure there’s any seduction (though there’s an accusation of it in the last story). Rather, it’s merely six stories of couples coming together where the common element is a mirror that reveals to the bearer her heart’s desire (a la the mirror of Erised from Harry Potter).

The collection, which includes 4 historicals and 1 paranormal and 1 contemporary, should have been titled HEART’S DESIRE. I’ve reviewed each of the stories below. I think the best way to describe the anthology (to which I have collectively given 4 and ½ stars), is to call it a “sampler” of appetizers served up by master romance writers. You have to buy their full novels to see their greater talents and I suppose that was the purpose. Still, it is a good introduction to their styles and genres and I can recommend it.

WHAT THE HEART SEES, by Marsha Canham: 4 stars
I have read all of Marsha’s historical novels and given each of them 5 stars. (She is on all my “Best” lists.) While her writing is superb as always, there isn’t enough of a story here to draw the highest rating from me. Set in 1193 in England, this is the tale of Cassie, a forester's daughter and a formidable archer (if you can believe a girl who is described as not tall could pull 150 pounds on a long bow) who, while helping Lord Thomas Purefoy defeat Prince John’s attack, has a chance encounter with an ancient blind jeweler who shows her a hidden door and a mirrored pendent that reveals her heart’s desire. Good story with clever twists and set the stage well for the anthology; would have been a great novel.

A ROUGH WOOING, by Virginia Henley: 3 and ½ stars
Henley is a great storyteller and I like her novels but I think she tried to do too much here. The romance didn’t build slowly enough to be convincing and the “dark moment” seemed contrived. Set in the Border Marches of Scotland and England in 1603, it’s the story of Scottish beauty Douglas Elliot and English Sir Lancelot Greystoke, who meet one night as she is climbing Hadrian’s Wall. He invites her to his keep where she gives him her virginity (not believable) and spies his antique mirror pendant and his prize horses. When she is caught stealing them with her brothers, he works to gain her a king’s pardon. Good story that had issues which could have been avoided if she’d only had more pages.

HEART'S DESIRE, by Jacquie D'Alessandro: 4 stars
D’Alessandro made the wise decision to keep the plot simple and thus had the pages to develop the emotional connection between the hero and heroine—and she did well. Set in England in 1838, it tells of William Lawton, an antique shop owner, who has loved Callie Albright his whole life. But when her sister’s husband became a duke, William thought Callie was out of his reach. That is, until she came into his shop and saw the mirrored pendant, which showed them together as a couple. It’s not a complex tale but is well written. She brings off the love story very well.

AND THEN THERE WAS YOU, by Jill Gregory: 5 stars
Gregory has done it very well, indeed. A tale of the Old West, set in Wyoming territory in 1877, it tells of two childhood playmates who come together again after life has changed them. It’s been 10 years since Gabe has seen carrot-topped Georgiana. The last time he saw her—and kissed her—she’d been 12. He wasn’t expecting to see her grown into a beautiful woman. But there is no place for such a woman in his hard life, or at least that’s what he thinks until one night in the barn. The glimpses in the mirrored pendent come later in this story but still done well. Good tale, well told and remarkably complete for a short story.

ALL THAT GLITTERS, by Sherri Browning Erwin: 4 stars
Set in Connecticut in 1978, it tells the story of wealthy young Elyse Fontaine who is obsessed with the desire for immortality, so much so she is willing to elope with some Norwegian guy who tells her he has a necklace that will grant her immortality. (Yeah right, and I have a bridge to sell.) At her uncle’s party, for kicks she runs off with a stranger named Bastian Blaze and his rocker band that has just looted the neighboring estate and is on the run. (OK, that makes her either dangerously reckless or stupid. Hard to like a heroine like that.) Blaze confesses in casual conversation that he has sold his soul. I have to give Erwin credit for a clever story even though I found it improbable (even for a paranormal, at least I think it’s a paranormal) and their love in less than 48 hours was a bit hard to believe. Still, it held my interest.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER, by Julie Ortolon: 3 and 1/2 stars
Set in 2011, this was my least favorite story of the six. It’s a contemporary (with a reference to ghosts) that involves software tycoon Luc Renard who (if you can believe it) is a handsome gaming nerd who drives a Porche and has the body of a god. (I haven’t seen any like that, but oh well). It’s been 10 years since he last saw Chloe Davis, the girl he had a crush on, but she has found his grandmother’s mirror pendant on the beach at Pearl Island where she works at a B&B and he’s come to collect it. Chloe thinks the pendant was from the ship of the privateer captain ghost, who along with his former lover, haunt the B&B. Frankly, unless you want a dump on gaming or Hurricane Katrina, you can skip whole passages. Didn’t interest me.

Lastly, I must commend the authors for dedicating their anthology—which brings together six women who have been friends for decades—to their friend, Kathleen Givens, who died suddenly a few years ago. I have read every one of Given’s enthralling Scottish historicals and given them all 5 stars. (They are on my Best Scottish/Highlander Romances List.) She was truly a wonderful author who left us a legacy of deeply moving historical romances. I don’t doubt for one moment that if she were with us today, there would have been seven stories in this anthology.

No comments:

Post a Comment