Charmed
by Jayne Castle, Julie Beard, Lori Foster, and Eileen Wilks; futuristic/paranormal (1999)
Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-17129-9


When I read this book, I was taking a really unwise but much-required break from deadlines and the boss is breathing down your neck horror. I took out my trusy bag of Tenerezze chocolate cream centered cookies, made myself an iced glass of root beer (okay, a barrel of root beer), called up the pizza fellow, and prepared to read while hubby watched the Manchester United vs The World soccer match.

The iced drink melted when it came to Lori Foster's Tangled Dreams. This anthology has four short stories, and three out of four is good. Now that's value for money and entertainment. There's a futuristic novella from Jayne Castle, a time travel and magic story from Julie Beard, a ghost story from Lori Foster, and a quasi-Dr Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde one from Eileen Wilks. All in time for Halloween.

I don't know how she does it, but every time I told myself, "That's it, no more Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick books!" (the last time I did this was after finishing the lackluster Flash), she comes up with a rather charming story that restores my faith in her. After reading Bridal Jitters, I can't wait to read the next Jayne Castle book. Instead of prisms and talents, we have ghost-hunters and tanglers. Virginia Burch, a tangler, is marrying Sam Gage, ghost hunter, for convenience. Something to do with furthering business opportunities. She's awfully jittery about her upcoming nupitals - she's in love with him, but is he her? - but while working together with Sam to deactivate a ghostly waterfall, they find love.

This is classic JAK stuff, with your usual JAK hero and heroine (you know), but it's very good sort of deja vu. Maybe it's because I haven't read JAK in a long time, and it's like a welcome home party to read such comfortingly familiar humor and witty conversations again.

Be warned, however, that Ms Castle goes overboard with the jargons that are explained only vaguely, in abstract terms. It is only halfway down the story that I'm told that ghost isn't the spooky, wailing sort, but unstable dissonance energy manifestation. Virginia's a tangler. What's a tangler? An ephemeral-energy para-resonator. I see. What does a ghost hunter do then, now that we know Slimer and Casper aren't going to appear in the story anytime soon? A ghost hunter is a dissonance-energy para-resonator. Wonderful. I never liked physics in high school, and all this talk of resonance is giving me a headache. What I did was to replace all these terms with familiar words. Dissonance energy para-resonator = Egon the Ghostbuster, ephemeral energy para-resonator = Janine the secretary. Does wonders for my headache.

This story has enough fun and zinger in it to be totally entertaining. Just be prepared to be bombarded with Castle-speak.

Julie Beard's Man In The Mirror has Katie Montgomery told by a crazy bag lady that the right man wears the symbol of a dragon. On Halloween she sees a wounded man in her mirror calling her name, steps in, and wooosh! She's back in the time of Merlin and Camelot. The wounded knight Sir Tristan is dying of a mortal wound that can only be cured by... antibiotics. Katie spends her time nursing him, but ultimately has to sacrifice their newfound love for some Big Important Cause. This story can be moving, but the author, constrained by length, cuts short the relationship between Tristan and Katie into inadequately few paragraphs. I'm not convinced, as a result, that these people are destined soulmates. Hence the story is pretty weak.

Lori Foster's Tangled Dreams is... oh momma, let me fan myself. Two ghosts that haunt Allison's antiquated house can only move on if they can bequeath a family heirloom to a passionate descendant - Allison. To prove her glorious, red-hot passion and hence helping the two dears move on to the hereafter, Allison - a virgin - would have to find a man to prove her mettle. She's always got the hots for her best friend's husband's brother Chase, so she takes a deep breath and gets into a bosom-revealing dress. Okay, so she's a bit dense, but the hero is worth the read. Chase, thanks to the ghosts, gains a newfound ability to read Allison's mind. Her sexual fantasies with him as the main star. Explicit fantasies. XXX-till-you-explode-sort of fantasies. But wait, Chase is a rather kinky man who likes to play mild bondage stuff in bed. Allison is in for the thrill of her life. This story is funny, delightful, has red-hot explosive chemistry, and sexual tension that burns into a conflagration. This story is worth the price of the book alone.

Eileen Wilk's Pandora's Bottle has the heroine Pandora following her love John into his country home, only to learn that he is a descendant of a djinn and there's a wicked alter-ego of him called Jack trapped in a magical bottle in John's possession. One night of passion causes John to lose control on Jack's captivity, and once freed, Jack causes Dora to feel torn between these two men. Jack looks exactly like John, but he is a carefree, mischievous, wittier version of straight-laced John. Frankly, I prefer Jack. Give me a man who can smile and laugh with me anytime. At the end when I found myself crying - while reading a short story! - over Jack's .... uhm, I really can't say more without spoiling the story. I grew to care for Jack without even knowing it, and hence, this story is a keeper for me.

Two fun stories, one so-so, and one more requires severe ignoring of weird jargons, but all in all, a fun package for Halloween.

Rating: 86


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