I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
"The Yearning" by Hannah Howell
I think this is by far the most awful story in this anthology. It isn't really the plot, which, while tired and unoriginal, isn't totally awful, and it isn't really the characters, who aren't given a chance to really shine but who also aren't gratingly annoying. The problem is certain idiotic details and Howell's by-the-numbers hideous Scottish accents.
The story begins in Scotland, 1000 A.D., with a woman scorned who just happens to have magic powers. She puts a curse on the man who left her pregnant and alone, while he went off and married someone else for money. Unfortunately, the curse not only affects him and his line, but her and her line as well. The women in her line fall in love, only to lose that love, and tend to be rich but miserable. His line always marries for money, land, and/or power and suffers from a curse that slowly turns them into something that I think might be cross between a werewolf and a vampire. Fast forward to Scotland, 1435, and Sophie, from the witch's line, tries to break the curse by going to Alpin, from the man's line. Sophie has a maid with quirks, and Alpin has a man who's loyal and bland.
I won't go into any more detail, but you should already know it ends happily. There were many things about this story that bugged me, so here's a few examples. First, the horrible accents. It's like some sort of hideous word game: man = mon (except for one early bit where Howell messed up and used "man" instead), no = nay, you = ye, very = verra, know = ken, aren't = arenae, and so on. "Mon" grated on my nerves the most. Second, these characters are stupid. Although the curse ends in a way that should make it clear how it can be broken, every character who finds out or realizes how to break the curse acts like it's the most amazing epiphany. Finally, more stupidity. Alpin avoids having sex with Sophie because "she probably did not understand how to prevent a child from taking root" (p. 48) - even if she is a virgin, she's a HEALER, of course she knows the birth control techniques for her time.
"A Hell of a Time" by Jackie Kessler
After Howell's story, this one was a relief. A former succubus (Jesse) is on a romantic getaway with her boyfriend (Paul), a sexy and lawful cop. Because she doesn't want to keep reminding him that she used to be a demon/succubus, she spends their time there desperately trying to keep him from finding out that the greenery at and near the cabin is trying to kill her.
I liked the relationship between Paul and Jesse enough that I think I'll try one of Kessler's books, since I'm assuming this story is based on characters from an actual novel. I'm also interested in the "former demon adjusting to being human for the sake of love" idea. Despite being a succubus, the sex, while graphic, wasn't as graphic as what you might find in, say, an Angela Knight novel. I appreciated that. It also seemed to me that Paul and Jesse were probably going to sit down in a future book/story and have a talk about sex not being the most important thing in their relationship - Jesse seems to have difficulty being around Paul without trying to have sex, and Paul, although he appreciates it, seems to be cluing in to the idea that Jesse might not be as secure in the aspects of their relationship that don't involve sex.
My only complaint about this story is that it begins with a demon of Gluttony that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story, even emotionally. It was interesting, and started off the story with some action, but it was also unimportant, unless Kessler was using this story as a way to set up the beginnings of a plot for a future book.
"City of Demons" by Richelle Mead
Although this story isn't as good as Kessler's, it didn't even approach the badness of Howell's story. However, since this story also involves a succubus, comparisons to Kessler's story are unavoidable. Plot-wise, I thought this story was, sometimes, more interesting than Kessler's (this one has some murder mystery aspects), but relationship-wise it wasn't that good.
In this story, a succubus (Georgie) is unwillingly roped into being a juror during a demonic murder tribunal. Luckily for her, although this is interrupting her romantic vacation with her boyfriend (Seth) - doesn't that sound familiar? - she gets to take him with her. Georgie's the only juror actually trying to figure out what really happened - everyone else plans on voting according to whichever one of the accused gives the best bribes. While she's dealing with that, she's also worried that Seth might be considering cheating on her with a waitress named Beth. Just a little background on this: Georgie can't have sex with Seth, since she'd suck out his life force if she did that, so instead she masturbates in front of him. She's also told him that it's fine with her if he goes and has sex with someone else, since her status as a succubus means she regularly has to have sex with other people. However, she doesn't really mean it and spends much of this story obsessing over Seth's behavior around Beth.
Although Georgie and Seth seemed like they might be nice enough characters, and the world Mead created sounds interesting, I'm not sure if I want to pick up a book by her. Seth and Georgie's relationship has some serious rockiness ahead, of the kind that stresses me out when I read it. I don't read romance to get stressed out. Anyway, it sounds like Mead's books (and maybe Kessler's) aren't so much romance as they are contemporary fantasy with graphic sex.
"Bitten" by Lynsay Sands
I think this story begins in Scotland in some indeterminate time in the past (it's not really very clear). Keeran's entire family is killed by a vampire, and he is turned into one. Years later (I was guessing it was the late 1800s, but I'm not the best one for figuring this kind of stuff out), he's living alone in a castle with two elderly servants when he saves a woman named Emily as her ship is going down. Emily was going off to marry a horrible earl so that he could have some of her money and her uncle could have some of his prestige. With her uncle dead after the shipwreck, Emily figures she's got a bit of time to consider what she's going to do about her future, so she sticks around, uses immense amounts of energy and stubbornness to get the castle cleaned, and gets to know Keeran better. For most of the story, she knows that people are afraid of him, but she doesn't know why.
It feels like the structure of this book was two succubus (or former succubus) stories that were heavier on the "paranormal" than on the "romance" (sorry, I don't think sex scenes automatically make something a romance), framed by two more traditional romantic stories featuring brooding, blood-drinking Scots. Of the two more traditional stories, I like this one better. Sands did a little of the accent thing, mostly with Mrs. MacBain, one of the servants, but it wasn't anywhere near as annoying as Howell's accents. Also, although I felt I'd read this particular story many times before (pretty, energetic, and innocent blond slowly thaws dark, brooding blood-drinker who doesn't feel he deserves her), I still enjoyed it. This story felt different from Sands' Argeneau series. That series focuses on a family of vampires, and in many of the books (maybe all, but I can't remember at the moment) wackiness ensues. Vampirism works a little differently in those books, too. In that series, vampires have little nanos in their bloodstreams that repair all damage to their cells, even damage caused by the sun, but the more the nanos have to work, the more blood they require to feed them.
I guess you could say I mostly liked this anthology. I read anthologies in order to get a taste of different authors and decide if I want to try getting through one of their novels. After reading this, I think I'll pick up something by Jackie Kessler and maybe Richelle Mead. I've already read a lot of Lynsay Sands' Argeneau series and have sort of gotten tired of it, but if she's starting something new I might pick it up to see if she's stopped doing some of the things in her writing that were getting on my nerves. I will not be picking up anything by Hannah Howell unless I'm desperate.
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)