This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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Praise for Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas:
"A fascinating guessing game that invites us to explore the range and creativity of which some of our most beloved authors are capable." --Laura Florand, author of La Vie en Roses, Paris Nights, and The Chocolate Series
"Your favorite authors like you've never read them before! These novellas are varied and vivid, with dashes of magic or danger and an irresistible touch of romance." --Theresa Romain, author of Fortune Favors the Wicked
"Trying to puzzle out who wrote which novella was so much fun. It was such a treat to see some of my favorite authors work their magic on a story that's outside their usual writing." --Cat Sebastian, author of The Soldier's Scoundrel and The Lawrence Browne Affair
Praise for the experimental concept behind Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas:
"Anthologies published by Open Ink Press are always high concept, but Sight Unseen has to be one of the edgiest and most highly anticipated projects of the year." --Santino Hassell, author of the Five Boroughs series, the Cyberlove series, and ICoS
"A groundbreaking approach to publishing. Frees the reader from expectation, frees the writer from fear. This can only lead to refreshing risk-taking, bold new stories, and beautifully honest writing. It strips away so many distractions that surround publishing, and gets to the heart of literature: experiencing a story. I can't wait for the collection."--Adi Alsaid, author of Let's Get Lost and Never Always Sometimes
"I love the concept of this book. It's a reader's version of a masked ball. The thrill of the anonymous encounter, the sense that they are both familiar and mysterious, and the rush of a secret kept or revealed. Can't wait to join the party."--Roan Parrish, author of In the Middle of Somewhere series
The first story is genuinely enjoyable and set my expectations high for the rest. The last was well done and two of the middle stories were readable, one unfortunately was not. However the anonymous format did keep me reading in a vain hope that it would turn around. Generally when I read an anthology with unfamiliar writers, if the writing fails early on, I skip the story assuming that the writer just isn't for me. Decide whether the price point is worth undergoing that sort of a reading experience
Sight Unseen is an ambitious project by five authors to write something from the heart but to remain anonymous. There are five novellas on a variety of themes, but the authors of the stories won’t be revealed until three months after the publication date. Personally, I’ve read 3 of the 5 authors before, but this was no help in determining who wrote what. The stories are fiction with romantic elements. I’d hesitate to label them all romances, but they do involve couples and have happy for now endings. Even if not all the stories are ones a reader would pick up on their own, there is definitely enough great material here to leave a lasting impression.
Lost That Feeling
This fantasy story is about Alma, a young woman who erased her memory with a spell so that the last 7 years is a mystery to her. Rescued from prison by a man who claims to be her partner in a rebellion against the King, the story involves Alma figuring out the details of the years she’s missing and the reasons why she cast the spell on herself. As the first story in the anthology, I was fascinated by how it unfolded, Alma’s magical abilities, and the world building involved in setting the tale. Alma and her partner in crime Driss did not have a romantic relationship before, but since the advent of the spell and her lack of memory, she finds herself attracted to him in the present. Their friendship is complicated by these feelings, and by the fact that the rebellion is still in full swing waiting for Alma to lead them once again. I would definitely be interested in reading more stories set in this world!
A Clear View of You
This paranormal romance centers on Kate, a woman whose mother is a firm believer in magic to the extent that she’s formed a commune of like-minded individuals. Kate’s unconventional upbringing means she’s convincing as a psychic and fortune teller, even though she doesn’t believe in what she prophesies. It’s a job, nothing more. Approached by a man to help her find an object, with the promise of money to pay off her student loans Kate isn’t going to say no – though the man himself isn’t quite what he seems. I really enjoyed this story too, with Kate having to come to terms with a new reality. There’s a sexual attraction between Kate and her client that turns into more as they work hand in hand to recover his missing object. There are some interesting magical elements and strong world building here too.
Set firmly in the here and now, this contemporary romance story details a friendship between Brad, an accountant for a motorcycle club and Wren the daughter of the club’s president. Brad suspects illegal dealings and tells Wren. Together they investigate and discover it’s true, making Wren face a definite dilemma. Should she protect her father whom she loves dearly, or turn him in? Brad’s motives for telling Wren involve unrequited feelings and his desire to keep her safe, even if the end result could mean no possible future relationship between them. I liked the intensity of this story and the realistic discussion of Wren’s choices and their consequences. There are some sexy scenes in this one as Brad and Wren pose as a couple to work undercover, unleashing a passion that surprises Wren for its intensity. Being in a small town and the expectations of the people around them definitely impacts their choices. It’s got a believable happy for now ending and I was fully invested in this couple’s relationship.
Chariot of Desire
Set in the ’80s, this is a rock band romance and delves into the quandaries of lead singer Donny Times who has become a follower of a cult. The music the band created in the ’70s was free with sex and drugs but now Donny insists on making clean music that doesn’t reflect badly on the religious he’s chosen. CJ, the drummer of the band could have been sexually involved with Donny during the band’s heyday but kept their relationship platonic for fear of wrecking their creativity. Donny’s conversion means any chance of building something together is gone since sex is a thing of the past for him. CJ struggles with her choices of staying with the man she’s always cared about or making her own way to live her musical dream. The themes aren't my personal favorite but It’s well written and brings up interesting links between rock music and sex. Donny and CJ both struggle with their choices and the ending shows they still have some work to do but are on the right track to finding happiness together.
The Heart is a Universe
This richly detailed story is a science fiction romance about love and sacrifice. Vitalis is ‘The Chosen One’, a young woman selected as the one who will sacrifice her life for the good of her planet, Pax Cara. She’s got 16 days until her life is forfeit when she meets Prince Eleian of Terra Illustrata, who proposes marriage to her for the short time she has left. She agrees and in the time they spend together she finds out his secrets as he finds out hers. Yet neither can stop fate. This story is definitely one of my favorites for its thorough world building and the ethical dilemma faced by Vitalis who has been trying to figure out a way to save her own life while not destroying her planet in the bargain. It’s clearly a romance too, with Vitalis and Eleian sharing some intimate scenes and heart to heart talks. I loved how the story progresses and the ending is surprising but very satisfying.
Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, Erin Satie, Emma Barry and J.A. Rock contributed to this anthology/guessing game. I have read multiple books by 4 out of these 5 authors, so it was an easy decision to pick up this book. Even not knowing who wrote which story, I could count on enjoying the anthology as whole.
The stories cover a gamut of sub-genres, from fantasy to historical. These stories are clearly experiments by the authors to write outside their usual niches and play with settings and tropes they aren't know for exploring and push the boundaries of the genre.
The book opens with "Lost That Feeling" about rebel witch who has erased 7 years of her life & needs to figure next step when she is rescued by her former rebel leaders. I loved the depiction of magic in this story and how it played with the amnesia trope within a magic fantasy setting. Alma is a living "what if" moment, and is conscious of the possibilities, while confused about the reasons that led her to that moment. I would characterize this story as fantasy with romantic elements because the romance takes a far back seat to the philosophical questions of how to end injustice.
In "A Clear View of You", I adored the angry and cynical fake-psychic grad-student heroine, drowning in college debt. Harmony "Kate" Marsh is estranged from her hippie-magic obsessed mother, Pangaea. North needs Kate's help to retrieve a magical orb in Pangaea's possession. It is a fantastic story about truth, trust and family. I loved the interaction between North and Kate, and how he challenges her entrenched beliefs without forcing or coercing. It had a lot of fun banter and humor through out.
In "Free," Brad is a timid accountant who finally builds up the courage to confront an oblivious biker princess, Wren Masters, about her father's biker club's drug dealing. It is a small town romance about unrequited crushes, growing up and moving on. Of the novellas this was probably the most conventional in tone and style. The subversion is in how it reworks the the typical Biker romance, rejecting slut-shaming tropes, and elevating the law-abiding hero over well-hung arrogant biker. I loved Wren was the sexual instigator and that her motivations are not simple or easy.
It is 1983, and CJ Crespo's band DonJon is falling apart. Donny, her creative but not romantic partner of a ten-years, has exchanged the excesses of the road for the strictures of religious conversion. Their careers are disintegrating but they are finally reaching toward each other. "Chariot of Desire" jumped forward and backward in time and it left me feeling pensive about passion & purpose & not terribly hopeful for CJ and Donny.
"The Heart is a Universe", the final novella is epic science fiction/romantic myth. Vitalis and Eleian are heroes to their planets. Vitalis is the Chosen One, the brightest of her generation, chosen by her people as a child to face a deadly task that assures their ability to remain on their planet. Eleian pulled his planet from the brink of chaos, facing off against a tyrant and helping them restore democracy, before retreating from public life. What most don't know is that he has been ill since birth, and only experiences brief moments of health and vitality. He uses one of them to orchestrate a meeting with his hero and inspiration Vitalis. I cried a lot reading this story, sympathetic frustrated tears, mostly as these two, struggled with anger, duty and doubt.
As a whole this anthology was very interesting and ambitious. As a guessing game despite having read 4 out of the 5 authors and knowing for sure who wrote one of the stories, I don't feel any confidence in my authorial guesses but it was fun to read a set of stories without knowing who authored what. As a discovery tool, I will definitely try more books by the one author I had not read previously, J.A. Rock.
I received an ARC for review consideration from the publisher Open Ink Press.