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Masked Hearts Paperback – May 21, 2016
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Masked Hearts is a collection of Fantasy Romance short stories released by Roane Publishing. It features short stories by authors Dana Wright, Claire Davon, Sharon Hughson, Sheryl Winters, and Nemma Wollenfang. I was lucky enough to receive an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest review, so here it is.
Each story is only a few chapters long. They're fairly clean reads, with no overt sexual activity, graphic sexual scenes, or foul language. I would personally say it would be okay for ages 14 and up although the main characters are adults and not teens or young adults. There is some naughty talk, but nothing I'm sure they haven't heard in movies or television. The stories feel like fairy tales and as an avid fairy tale geek, I was more than pleased at this. All of the stories fall into the Fantasy category; each one featuring an aspect common to the genre.
Affinity by Dana Wright
This Gothic Fantasy features all the goodies. Set in a haunted mansion, Kristen is raised by her eccentric Aunt Florence and can see ghosts. She's also haunted by a boy in a mirror. One night she finds herself in a secret garden party looking for the mystery boy. What she finds instead is a monster in the guise of a Fairy Queen. She ultimately is traumatized and leaves her childhood home as soon as possible. Years later Fate sends her back to the place of her nightmares and once again looking for the boy, now a man, trapped in the mirror.
This story was so good. It put me in mind of a retelling of The Secret Garden. The writing was well done and the world building was phenomenal. I couldn't believe the author could put that much detail into a short story and still have it flow so smoothly. I'm hoping this is a prequel and leads to a lot more stories or full fledged novels with these characters or within this world.
Water Woman by Claire Davon
This Fantasy combines lore that I'm not familiar with, which ultimately makes me happy because I enjoyed the story and have new folklore to research! The story is set in Spain and features a feisty Aloja, or Water Woman, named Isadora. Isadora is approached by another magical creature, an Abada named Kimoni. I had no clue what either of these shape shifters were, but the author did a great job in describing them. Apparently an Aloja controls all bodies of water and can turn into a black bird. She also seems to possess healing powers or at least a great affinity for potions (like I said I need to look into that legend some more, it's fascinating). Kimoni, the Abada, is something like an "African Unicorn".
The story is quick and action packed. It was also well written and much more detailed than I would expect for a short story. Isadora is asked to help a member of Kimoni's family and while trying to do so, finds herself in danger. She is no damsel in distress though and fights for herself with some assistance from her Abada friend. Once she's safe and helps her friend, Isadora must decide if her feelings are for Kimoni are love or lust. I loved this story for the fact that the heroine could help herself, in fact it's a theme throughout all of these stories.
Duty or Desire by Sharon Hughes
Alyona is an elf on a quest to find her missing brother. She finds herself traipsing modern day Earth and discovers trying to blend in with humans is hard. She unwittingly partners up with Agent Camden Kerr. While she thinks he's trying to help, he's trying to figure out if she's a threat and needs to be taken in to custody. It also turns out her brother wasn't missing so much as on a vacation.
I found this to be a comedy of errors and a delightful read. It was probably the "sauciest" of the reads, but still a clean read overall. Just some naughty thoughts and banter. I liked the author's take on magic and magical creatures too. It was different and oddly enough, plausible. By this point in the book, I thought I would be tired or ready to skim over things, but again, these authors know how to keep a girl hooked and I found myself staying awake well into the night to finish up to this point.
Feather Fall by Sheryl Winters
Brooke is a swan shifter with Autism. If that wasn't enough, she's also albino and can't seem to shift normally like the others. She is constantly battling herself and trying to be "normal". While on a job in Homer, Alaska, she begins to have strange dreams about a mystery man. He inevitably shows up in real life and Brooke isn't sure how to deal. Does she embrace her shifter nature or let her disability define her?
This story is beautifully done. It features two main characters with disabilities, and how they are trying to overcome them in order to make a "normal" life for themselves. Brooke's autism is well described and I found myself empathizing with her during her bouts of anxiety. I liked her from the very first sentence and found myself talking out loud, saying things like ," It's okay, you can do it!" Luckily there were no adults around to give me weird looks.
Dragon Law by Nemma Wollenfang
Dragon Law is the last story in Masked Hearts and it certainly ends things with a bang. Draxa is a princess of a kingdom being terrorized by a Dragon. In an effort to stop the attacks, she is given to the Dragon as a bride. This is a binding contract and the Dragon must cease his attacks on the kingdom. Draxa is left alone to live in a cave with this terrifying beast of legend. One night, after many weeks of despair, she is allowed to visit her people. Upon venturing into her old village, she discovers the truth behind her sacrifice and finds herself under attack from a stranger. Her Dragon comes to her aid and she shuns all human contact afterward. In an act of love, the Dragon gives her an amulet that brings her immortality. Many Many years later, Draxa is approached by a knight. This nobleman pleads for her help saying the kingdom is in tatters and she is the only one that can help. Draxa agrees to help and finds herself in the trappings of her old life once again. Ultimately she sees that mankind is still just as brutal and heartless as it once was and realizes where her heart truly belongs.
This seemed like a retelling of Beauty and the Beast to me, which is by far one of my favorite fairy tales. The author did a great job in making it her own. She kept just enough in their to remind me of the original, but it isn't the same story. It was fantastic.
Affinity by Dana Wright – This was a unique take on faeries and shifters. I enjoyed how the author mingled a sense of traditional fantasy with a paranormal reality show twist.
Water Woman by Claire Devon – I have read a lot of romance, but this is the first story I’ve encountered about a medicine woman. As I read it, the story had a brooding sense of mystery that I enjoyed.
Duty or Desire by Sharon Hughson – Of all the stories in this anthology, I connected with the characters in this story the most. I felt this was a five star read. Since it was told from alternating points of view, I was able to gain a strong sense of what it would be like to be in Cam or Alyona’s shoes. The chemistry between the two main characters is very well executed, and the writing is engaging. I loved this story and wanted more. I hope that the author decides to make a full length novel about Cam and Alyona, because if she does, I’m all over it.
Feather Fall by Sheryl Winters – There’s been a push for more diversity in the romance genre, and this story delivers exactly that. This is a beautiful shifter romance with main characters that are not of the cookie-cutter variety. I enjoyed watching Brooke overcome her insecurities and find her way to Blake. I absolutely loved that the author wasn’t afraid to highlight flaws or disabilities in either Brooke or Blake, and that even though she did, she showed that they were strong and resilient.
Dragon Law by Nemma Wollenfang – I loved the mood and the tone of this story and felt this was a five star read. The plot was deep and well developed, and I empathized with Draxa from the very beginning. The way that she develops and grows through the course of time is impressive, and I truly enjoyed that she was no damsel in distress. There were a few moments where I thought the author was going to take the story in one direction, and then it took a different path. I was pleasantly surprised by how it kept me guessing. If you enjoy romance with a strong female lead, I highly recommend this story.