DUAL RELEASE DAY REVIEW!!
He Said – She Said
He Said – Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of the Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
This is a really fun ride, combining the talents of four creative women who each riff on an offbeat theme: a gay/bi paranormal dad raising an adolescent child on his own, who he sends off to summer camp, hoping to enjoy a little “me” time—and maybe find romance.
The first story—and these are all of substantial length, really novellas—is Monster Hall Pass by Bru Baker. Hugh Whitby (his name a sly homage to Dracula) is a vampire, who has given up a career in the paranormal world to become—wait for it—an insurance company call center manager(!) so that he can be a “normal” dad and raise Ruby, the little girl he adopted after finding her as an infant, abandoned by a dumpster. Baker has taken some liberties with the lore of the vampire, but leaving in place the crucial detail that, now and then, vampires do need to kill. In order not to create havoc in the human world, they (or at least Hugh) only go after unrepentant, violent criminals—often working in collaboration with police. So Hugh’s vacation will involve some self-care in the form of offing bad guys.
His plans go a bit sideways when, at the very start of his vacation, Hugh runs into a mysterious man named Rykoff, a reluctant visitor from the fae world, who has a rather negative attitude about vampires. As Hugh and Rykoff get to know each other, however, some startling truths are revealed, and Hugh begins to realize that his meeting with the attractive, taciturn fae woodworker is possibly not an accident after all.
If I have a complaint about this story, it’s that there are lots of details that could have borne a deeper exploration, by expansion of the novella into a full-on novel. It’s a fascinating premise and a fun narrative, but it felt somehow skimpy in its world- and character-building. I liked it a lot, but I wanted more.
Kismet and Cadavers by Jenn Moffatt is sweet and romantic in just the right way. Kevin-James Beshter is a high-school history teacher haunted by memories of seeing a coven of dancing naked witches one summer at Boy Scout camp. In the face of the world’s disbelief, he has become an amateur ghost-hunter, seeking some proof of what he knows in his heart to be the truth. Then his favorite student, Star Anders, manages to arrange for him to meet her handsome father, even though she is off at summer camp. Thomas Anders, and his sentient, undead cat (a great story in itself), is lonely and hoping for some “me time” while his precocious magical daughter is out of the house. Little does he know that her adorable history teacher might not be as much of a stranger as he thinks at first sight. Without fully knowing what they’re getting into, KJ and Thomas embark on an adventure in the paranormal world of San Diego that will reveal several truths and risk their lives.
I loved Moffatt’s sweet, low-angst romantic storytelling, spiced up with the almost unexpected darkness of the climactic event—an intersection of KJ and Thomas’s worlds that neither expected. I did wonder how Thomas managed to become a father.
T.A. Moore’s Elf Shot is the most complex and darkest of the four stories. I had some trouble getting a grip on this one—not for any writing issues, but because the author more or less drops you into the disorienting borderland between the human and fae worlds. I had to really scrabble, grabbing whatever clues I could find, to understand fully what was going on. In retrospect, I think the author did this on purpose, to keep the reader off-kilter in this high-action and surprisingly gruesome tale.
Conri is a human changeling—a child stolen by the fae and only returned when the fae and human worlds signed an agreement—a treaty of sorts. He has an adopted son, Finnegan, who is not only a teenager, but a fae child himself, abandoned in the human world. While off at fae-kids summer camp, Finn gets involved in a party-crashing adventure that goes badly wrong. Conri steps in to help clear his son of suspicion and to find out the truth—only to literally run into Dylan Bellamy—known as Bell—special agent for the Iron Door, the human agency that polices fae/human problems.
The romance in this tale is more prickly, less sweet, but no less effective for all that. As we learn about Conri’s own story, and begin to understand Bell’s life as an Iron Door agent, we see a challenge for both of these men to overcome their own histories in the name of something better.
The finale is Wolf at First Sight by Rhys Ford, familiarly set in her favorite town of San Francisco which, as one character says, pretty much invented weird. Levi Keller runs St. Con’s, a popular local bar—a bar suspiciously free of drunk-and-disorderly calls to the police. That oddly good behavior draws the attention of police detective Joe Zanetti, especially when representatives of two motorcycle clubs appear in the neighborhood in the same 24-hour period. While Zanetti is staking out St. Con’s, he witnesses Levi sending his teenage son, Declan, off to summer camp, only to be interrupted by his grandmother, who has walked two miles to find him because she suspects he might be hungry. What Joe Zanetti doesn’t know is that Keller is a wolf shifter and a peacekeeper for the paranormal community in San Francisco—nor that his grandmother spends an awful lot of time at St. Con’s for a good elderly Catholic woman.
This is funnier, and lighter in feeling than the other stories, with Ford’s distinctive comic edge. The accidental stumbling of a good cop into a world he didn’t know existed is a great set-up for his personal education as well as his miserable love life.
A nice motif that runs through all four stories is the fathers’ fierce love for their children, along with the acknowledgement of how difficult adolescents—magical or otherwise—can be. Lovelorn men, raising children alone, finding potential romance in unexpected places—each author has taken these ideas and made them into surprisingly different, refreshingly heartfelt tales.
She Said – Reviewed by Melissa Brus
Member of the Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
This is a great anthology of stories of single fathers who finally get a little freedom after they send their children off to sleep-away camp. The different takes on a theme are always so interesting and these four amazing authors really made it fun to read.
Monster Hall Pass – Bru Baker
I really enjoyed this take on vampirism. Baker creates a world so seamlessly that the reader is engrossed in the story before you ever realize how encapsulated you are in the writer’s created realm. The dichotomy of Hugh Whitby is my absolute favorite part of this story. He’s a devoted father to his adopted daughter and a manager of an insurance company complaint center. He’s also a vampire and part-time vigilante. So of course, when he takes his “hall pass” to feed himself, he runs into all the chaos. I absolutely loved the interactions between Hugh and Rykoff. Their chemistry was both fiery and hilarious. Bru Baker managed to get sweet, sexy and funny timing done so well in this story. This was a super way to start this anthology!
Kismet and Cadavers- Jenn Moffatt
What a cool take on how magic is part of our everyday world! I really enjoyed the history of Thomas and KJ. It made it so easy to be drawn into their story. The chemistry between these guys was explosive. And thanks to the meddling kid, it gets a little boost to get started. The presence of a daughter was a little confusing and her history is brushed over, but her interference is critical to the meeting of our main characters. By far my favorite character is Nate. Without giving away too much, he is super hilarious and not what you will be expecting. He is snarky and fabulous. The addition of a supernatural blog was genius. I really liked that the author leaves the door open for future adventures!
Elf Shot – TA Moore
In a world where there is a precarious peace between the fae and the humans, the disappearance of a human girl could derail everything. Moore takes the stories of changelings and creates a whole new look at how it impacts everyday living. Conri knows both sides of the veil better than he would like to admit. And as a main character, he is fantastic. He is my favorite kind of snarky, irreverent, and imminently lovable character that Moore seems to be particularly adept at creating. Beyond his red vine addiction, he thrives on getting under the “official” demeanor of Dylan “Bell” Bellamy. The differences in these two and the impact on their interactions is subtle comedic gold. The fact that Conri is also trying to monitor his son’s behavior at camp by phone, while trying to keep the peace from falling apart, is really well timed in the narrative. Moore creates some amazing twists and turns, leaving the resolution up in the air until the final sentences. But oh what a ride! This is a great “fairy” tale.
Wolf at First Sight – Rhys Ford
There is just something about the actual linguistic rhythm of a Rhys Ford book. It becomes part of the story itself in its cadence and word choice. This is no exception. I loved that there was an entire supernatural world just under the veneer of “regular” life in a small pub. Levi Keller, proprietor – among other things, is also a dad to a teenager who is prone to blowing up things like toilets while at his sleep-away camp. I really love that Joe Zanetti trips into the paranormal side of things and then sees everything, including his sweet grandma, in a new light. The romance is actually really sweet. These two men, with incredible integrity, find out that rather than working at cross purposes, that they are in fact, heading in the same direction – together. I really enjoyed this tale and it was a great way to finish off this anthology of stories.