Hearts Afire: May
by Nina Pierce and Julia Devlin, assorted (2009)
Liquid Silver Books, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-59578-533-6


It's May so we know what this means, right? It's time for the latest Hearts Afire, the monthly two-story collection from Liquid Silver Books revolving around firemen. So far, my experiences with these collections are pretty positive, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Nina Pierce kicks off things with Shadows Of Fire. This one has me scratching my head because it's not about firemen as much as it is about vampires in a secret agent thingy going undercover as firemen. Something tells me that this story wasn't originally meant to feature firemen... Anyway, Alexandra Flanagan didn't ask be to a vampire, but here she is, with fangs and all. You know the sad song, I'm sure. Meanwhile, Reese Colton, like all good vampire heroes, is part of a super elite organization dedicated to busting rogue vampires. His mission is to play a fireman in order to discover the cause of a series of fires that had destroyed humans and vampires alike.

This one is full of awkward phrases. Some, like "Arctic chill" and "in the arms of Morpheus" come off like unnecessarily flowery attempts by the author to sound fancy. Then there are some sentences that have me scratching my head, such as this one:

Testosterone and laughter filled the fire station kitchen.

I know what Ms Pierce is telling me, but that "testosterone and laughter" thing just feels off somehow.

And then we have firemen bantering oh so preciously:

Reese had never welched on a bet, especially if it was more along the lines of a dare, but there was always a first time. "You haven't had anything better than a straight all night, Harkness," Reese stated. "With a full boat, it was a pretty safe bet I'd be pocketing that piece of paper." Reese lunged for the I.O.U., but Josh pulled it from his reach.

"Uh-oh, methinks he's afraid of a wee Irish woman."

Friendship, boredom, and the late hour made the whole situation humorous at least to the other men in the room. "I am not afraid." Reese paused, measuring his words. "I just believe slow and steady wins the woman's heart."

"He thinks he's a friggin' tortoise." Timmons pulled the collar of his T-shirt over his head.

"No." Ellsworth cupped his hands over his heart and batted his lashes. "More like Romeo. 'Juliet. Juliet. Wherefore art thou?'"

"A million comedians out of work and you two - "

Uh, we're talking about a bunch of firemen, right, and not a bunch of first year theater students, right?

And then we have this sentence capping the scene from which I took the above excerpt:

Six men slid down the brass pole, donning their bravery with their bunker gear.

I really don't think Ms Pierce's amazing attempts at using fancy words and phrases in her story is working for me. Unless "bravery" here is now an euphemism for "codpiece", for example, the above sentence feels pretentious as hell. Ms Pierce comes off as trying very hard here, but... I don't know, I feel that those attempts don't seem right somehow, especially when many of these phrases aren't smart as much as they are actually clichés ("the mansion quickly being devoured by hungry flames"). It is as if Ms Pierce seems to be using them just because she can, not because those fancy phrases fit the context of the story, am I making sense here?

A few pages later, I come across this:

Thorns of guilt stabbed heart, but Alex had no other recourse.

Deep breath now. Think happy thoughts, positive thoughts, naked hot firemen... okay, where was I?

Oh yes, let's go on to the story. Alex, full of remorse despite having had thirty years to adjust to her new life and diet, meets Reese when he's in the neighborhood investigating those fires. Alex has a secret that she is keeping from Reese, however, one that she tries not very well to hide, so he begins wondering what she is up to.

I don't know. I really cannot get into this story because, apart from the awkward phraseology that is present all over the place, there are also some cardinal no-no's present. On page 25, for example, a character conveniently reveals that he has a skill that comes useful at that very situation. Then the author spends considerable time giving me the point of view of a secondary character... who then dies later in the story, so all that gnashing about his suspicions about Alex's extra-curricular antics end up doing nothing to further the story line. And then we have the heroine. Oh my goodness, I've never seen such a pathetic creature so determined to be a martyr in quite some time now.

I really don't want to waste any more words or time on Shadows Of Fire, so let me just say that I don't know what happened to the author, whose previous short stories were generally tightly paced and well written. This one is comparable to a terrible first draft of some self-published effort that one can find by randomly picking any title from Lulu. What happened, Ms Pierce? This is truly horrible.

Julia Devlin is next with A Walk On The Wild Side. She has a pretty easy job here, because pretty much any story will be better than the one I have just read, shudder.

On her 30th birthday, Abby Simmons' grand plans involve watching TV before going to bed early. Still, it's not so bad - she gets to see her shirtless neighbor Luke Marlow working in the garden next door when she comes home. That man is fine, but he treats Abby more like a sister when Abby would rather that he read her mind and ravish her like she wants him to so badly. Later that evening, her courage fueled by alcohol, she hits upon a bright idea to liven up her birthday: she's going to go next door and ask Luke to bandy shag her silly! Luke is too gentlemanly to take advantage of a drunken woman, but he's more than up to the task when she subsequently presents him with a list of sexual fantasies she wants him to help her our with.

Strike one against this story - no condom is used in this story. If the author wants to present a fantasy where condoms are not required, I'm fine with it, but no, instead she has Abby telling Luke that she is on the pill and she is clean. I take it that this means Luke, the man whom Abby is convinced is a womanizer, has the okay to stick it into her and shoot it everywhere without protection? What, do Abby's underused womanly bits have protective magical powers against disease and or something? I've said it before and I'll say it again here: if the author wants her story to be a bareback fantasy, then ditch any mention of protection altogether. Just mention in a brief foreword that this story is a fantasy and that readers should practice safe sex in real life. Why insult everyone's intelligence by pretending that safe sex is only useful to prevent unwanted pregnancies?

Strike two - the author insists that the characters are in love and they are getting married. There is nothing here that suggests love, just unsafe sex, lots and lots of it. If the author has let things end on a more realistic manner, such as the characters agreeing to see more of each other, this one won't be so bad. The forced happily ever after however is ridiculous.

Read this one for the whole nine yards of sex, in other words, and try not to think too hard about the remaining 1% of the story. And while you're at it, skip the first story. Heck, feel free to skip this one altogether. Read the collections of the previous months instead because those are so much better than this dud.

Rating: 48


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