A MelanieM Release Day Review: Once Upon a Time in the Weird West Anthology

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Rating:  4.75 stars out of 5

 

once-upon-a-time-in-the-weird-westThis isn’t the same old Wild West. The usual suspects are all present: cowboys, outlaws, and sheriffs. There’s plenty of dust, tumbleweeds, horses, and cattle on the range, but there are also magical gems, automatons, elementals, airships… even dinosaurs and genetically modified insects. Roaming among the buffalo and coyotes, you’ll encounter skinwalkers, mad engineers, mythical beings cloaked in darkness, and lovers who stay true to their oaths… even beyond the grave. On this frontier are those at the mercy of their own elaborate devices as well as men whose control of time and space provides a present-day vision of the West. There might even be a dragon hidden amongst the ghost towns and wagon trains.

If you like your Westerns with a splash of magic, a touch of steampunk, and plenty of passionate romance between men, these genre-bending tales will exceed expectations.

Hold on to your hats, cowboys and cowgirls. The West is about to get weird, and you’re in for a hell of a ride.

Its been quite a while since I’ve  read such a strong and outstanding anthology.  I can recommend almost every story and most are 4 to 5 stars.  Its remarkable.  The American West has always been wild but never this weird and extraordinary.  In the hands of these authors, they transport the readers and romance into other dimensions  and worlds entirely.  From steampunk to mages to things supernatural, all the roads to love, however strange and mysterious, can be found here.

I’ve listed them in the order they can be found in the anthology with my comments and ratings.

Reaper’s Ride by Astrid Amara  – 5 Stars

Johnny Jenkins  loves  most aspects of riding  for the Pony Express, but  the  loneliness  can  be  hard  to  abide.  When  a  raid  injures  the  station keeper  at  remote  Jacob’s  Well,  Johnny  is  left  alone  to  tend  the  incoming riders until a replacement can be found. Isolated and without even a horse to keep him company, Johnny thinks he might go mad from solitude. 

That is, until he meets Sye Fairchild, a rider for a different kind of express.  This  one  operates  in  the  shadows,  and  the  deliveries  are  of  a much  darker  nature.  Sye  is  dashing  and  kind,  but  he’s  also  under  a deadline—he’s  got  to  finish  his  deliveries  by  Friday,  or  he  breaks  a  very old and very serious bargain. 

And  as  Johnny  finds  a  kindred  soul  in  Sye,  he  realizes  that  soul needs saving—even if it means ruining his own.

 Astrid Amara does her normal outstanding job of melding accurate historical fiction with the supernatural in the Reaper’s Ride, one of my favorites.  It launches this anthology with a bang and I still have this couple hanging about in my head.

Wild, Wild Heart by Shira Anthony – 5 stars

Al Pennington and Cyrus Reese are both damaged men. Apprenticed as a child to a master who created clockwork wonders, Al now prefers to spend his days on his secluded homestead, toiling over his own fantastical inventions. But when he takes the wounded Cyrus into his home and nurses him back to health, Al realizes he wants Cyrus to stay. Al’s tired of being alone, Cyrus is tired of running, and maybe their time together can be a balm to wounds left by their difficult pasts. 

When an outlaw bent on dragging Cyrus back into a life of crime comes knocking, Al is seriously injured. Cyrus must quite literally take Al’s broken heart in his hands to save his life.

 Wild, Wild Heart by Shira Anthony makes steampunk inventions believable as she does the men who  toil over them.  Here a simple sound become ominous, and then  joyous.  I loved it.

Dr. Ezekiel Crumb’s Heavenly Soul Purifying Elixir by Lex Chase – 3.75 stars

Dr. Ezekiel Crumb’s Medicine Show runs a booming business conning homesteaders with his Heavenly Soul Purifying Elixir. He takes advantage of the gullible, who believe the only way to be purged of their sins is with his moonshine—strong enough to strip paint at forty paces. 

When a sandstorm buries his caravan, Ezekiel is hauled to safety and trapped in his wagon. His savior is none other than Levi Everett, his lost love. But Ezekiel put him in the ground years ago, and he fears Levi is the Devil, come to demand atonement for his sins. The tale Levi spins leaves Ezekiel wondering if he’s lost his own soul—or maybe his mind. All he knows is that not even his elixir can heal his broken heart.

 I thought this story got stronger the further in I got and loved the ending.

Corpse Powder by Jana Denardo –    4.75 stars

Doctor Isaac Adler came to Virginia City, Nevada, to escape the horrors he witnessed during the War between the States. Despite a living in a thriving Jewish community, Isaac’s having trouble finding his faith… and finding work. Just when he’s contemplating leaving the desert, life takes an unexpected turn when the airship Aurora is attacked by pirates and Isaac is called upon to help the wounded.

The ship’s first mate, Tsela “Alexander” Zhani, is also trying to outrun a nightmare, his in the form of the powerful skinwalker who drove him from his Navajo village. Tsela’s friendship with the handsome doctor responsible for saving the lives of his friends gives both men a fragile hope for a better future. But their demons aren’t as far behind them as they thought.

 Corpse Powder  blends two religions and two disparate men and comes up with a remarkable romance.  One is Dr. Isaac Adler, Jewish and afraid of heights.  The other, a flying ship’s first mate, Tsela Zhani, a Navajo being chased by a skinwalker.    The imagination shown by the author in not only Denardo’s world building but the battle scenes and the characters is amazing.  Another world I could happily have stayed in.

The Sheriff of Para Siempre by Jamie Fessenden  – 3 stars

In 1875, Billy Slade is one of the fastest gunmen in the territory of New Mexico, despite his youth. With his lover, Joe Brady, he travels from town to town, hiring out his skill wherever he can—provided the cause is noble. Billy fancies himself a hero defending the common man against bandits and ruffians. But a night of passion gets Billy and Joe run off the ranch they helped defend from rustlers.

In the failing mining town of Para Siempre, Billy’s skill as a marksman lands him the job of sheriff. But the town is run by the corrupt Cassidy brothers, who take a liking to Billy and Joe, and they’re used to getting what they want. When Billy rejects Jed Cassidy’s proposition, Jed challenges him to a gunfight. It’s a fight Billy could easily win—but the Cassidys don’t play fair.

For me, this was the only story I disliked.  The writing is good but the story is one that I actually ending up rushing through.  From a rape and murder, its sad, bittersweet and left a awful taste in my mouth.  Its 3 stars only because the writing is so good.  Disliked everything else. 

The Tale of August Hayling by Kim Fielding – 4 stars

August Hayling went west following the discovery of gold in California. While most prospectors were hoping to strike it rich, August was more interested in a place big enough to let him get lost. Sitting alone in a saloon, he is approached by a peculiar man named Georgios Cappadocia, who offers August a fortune in gold if August will come along and help him fetch it. August soon learns that his strange new employer is engaged in some kind of ancient dispute. And when they arrive at their destination, both men will realize that not all treasures are golden—and sometimes destinies can be changed.

Ah a Kim Fielding story!  I never know which way its going to go.  This time its whimsical.  I sort of guessed at the identities of the characters but that didn’t take away my enjoyment of the story.  Extra bonus?  Features one of my favorite fantasy creatures!

 Time Zone by Andrew Q. Gordon –   4.5 stars

Some people possess gifts that allow them to change the world. For Wesley Blake, it’s all a matter of time. He can stretch a handful of seconds into a whole day. But his ability hasn’t saved Wesley from being hurt by others. As a field agent for the Department of Gifted Americans, Wesley throws himself into his work to forget that he is alone. The only person Wesley trusts is his handler, Lothar.

Then a vital mission brings a new partner, Eric, who refuses to let Wesley shut him out. As they train for their assignment, a friendship builds between them. Wesley cautiously lets Eric into his life, until he learns Eric and Lothar lied to him. Betrayed and angry, Wesley struggles to control his powers, and when things take a dangerous turn, even Wesley might not have enough time to get out with his life.

 Another strong story. Time Zone and Andrew Q. Gordon delivers great characters and a fascinating world.  Wesley Blake in particular, a vulnerable gifted man with a dependancy on his handler Lothar, who he’s never met.  How the story unfolds, its revelations, including the spectacular one at the end?  It kept me involved and connected to Wesley and his path to love.  Outstanding story.

Get Lucky by Ginn Hale – 5 Stars  

Pinkerton detectives, saltwater crocodiles, the Borax Brothers, and the sinister Swaims: seems everyone is out to get water mage, Lucky Spivey.

Lucky Spivey just wants to pay off his dead father’s debts and forget about the gunslinger who left him waiting at the stagecoach station three years before. But when he stumbles across a handsome Pinkerton detective in mortal peril, he can’t abandon the man to his fate, and all too soon Lucky finds himself in a wild chase filled with magic, murder, and a triceratops or two. Surviving the marshlands might mean working together with a disturbingly familiar gunslinger…. 

 Ginn Hale had me at Lucky Spivey.   What a wild ride!  Mages, crocodiles, swamps and a lost love returned.  I really wanted so much more at the end.  If you’re listening Ginn Hale, bring Lucky back and his beau too. 

From Ancient Grudge to New Mutiny by Langley Hyde – 4 stars

In the small town of Wilson Creek, two handsome lovers, destined for death at each other’s hands, attempt to end their families’ Shakespearean feud over precious magical minerals.

When James Caplin, inventor of a new magic-detecting device, returns home after graduating from Hinton’s Academy for Boys, he’s looking to have one last hurrah with a handsome cowboy. But he discovers not only that his handsome cowboy is Frank Montgomery, the son of the Caplins’ hated enemies, but also that the Montgomerys are accused of stealing the Caplins’ precious illudine, a rare magical stone. When the argument between the Montgomerys and Caplins becomes heated, James and Frank are expected to settle the matter with a duel. If James doesn’t want to put a bullet in Frank, he’ll have to recover the illudine, reveal the thief, and end a centuries-old rivalry… and he needs Frank’s help.

 Romeo and Jules with Alchemy.  Another neat twist on the  Romeo and Juliet  tale with  a M/M twist and turns.  I wish I had more background on the world but it was  fascinating in the bits and pieces the author set out.  

POMH by Venona Keyes  4 .5 stars

Lorem Farcome makes inventions that cater to the working class. He dreams of a lost chance in love and a lost apprentice. The lost love he can do nothing about, but an apprentice, he can surely build. With a rare red prism, Lorem creates and animates his assistant, dubbing him “Pomh.” The road never runs smooth, and a wealthy and powerful competitor, Markus Reighn, accuses Lorem of stealing the red prism and claims Lorem’s mechanical man for himself. But an odd-looking prospector might hold the key to clearing Lorem’s name and giving Lorem his true heart’s desire.  

Lorem has lost someone and he makes  wonderful inventions.  He finds a rare prism, and something miraculous  occurs.  Venona Keyes takes us on a steampunk journey of lost love and heartbreak and miracles.  Its one to be treasured, a standout in a collection of standouts.

 

Oh, Give Me a Home by Nicole Kimberling – 5 stars

Corporate terraformer turned social justice worker, Gordon gave up a good living to pioneer New Saturn, where the ranges are as vast as they sky—just the way Gordon likes them. Together with his partner Henry, Gordon herds the ankle-high genetically modified insects, which deposit crucial bacteria into the soil so the ground can one day be farmed. But when rustlers strike, the barren beauty of the frontier  turns deadly, and Gordon must risk everything to keep himself and Henry alive. 

Nicole Kimberling has long been a favorie of mine, especially her Bellingham Mysteries.  Here you have an established  couple Henry (born earthbound) and Gordon (born in space) and their herd of bugs each with their personalities.  Yes from Screwloose to Queen Esther, you’ll be falling in love with these terraforming bugs too.  Kimberling gives us the complete world, including Gordon’s space born physiology and what that must mean when it comes to making love or even existing within quarters with gravity.  A stunning story all around.

Gunner the Deadly by C.S. Poe – 5 stars

Special Agent Gillian Hamilton is one of the top magic casters in law enforcement. Sent to Shallow Grave, Arizona to arrest a madman engineer responsible for blowing up half of Baltimore, Gillian isn’t expecting a run-in with notorious outlaw, Gunner the Deadly.

Gillian and Gunner become temporary teammates when it turns out they’re after the same man. The Tinkerer will stop at nothing to get rid of the two so he can steal the town’s silver mines and build an army of steam machines to take down the country. If facing Gatling guns, airships, and magic wasn’t enough, Gillian must also struggle with the notion that he’s rather fond of his criminal partner. But perhaps a union between copper and outlaw isn’t so weird out in the wild and lawless West.

 Gillian and Gunner and a madman on the loose in a steampunk world.  Its wildly imaginative, its fast paced, and its romantic.  Loved it.

After the Wind by Tali Spencer     –  5 stars

Plagued by drought and raids from hostile Comanches, the West Texas frontier is a hell of a place to carve out a living. Twenty years ago, a mysterious disaster devastated the Llano Estacado and cursed the survivors with supernatural abilities over Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. The Anglo government promptly outlawed these powers—and they’re willing to pay good money to anyone who turns over an elemental, dead or alive.

When rancher Micah Dawes desperately needs water for his herd, he strikes a deal with two unsavory bounty hunters for the services of a chained, blue-haired water elemental named Rain. Micah pities Rain, but he has to play his cards close to his chest—because Micah, too, survived the Wind, and the reason he always wears a hat is to hide his glowing red hair….

We end up this extraordinary collection with a strong story.  After the Wind by Tali Spencer.   Is the Wind an environmental foreshadowing?  Whatever the cause the devastating effects on the human and animal population is swift and brutal.  Genetic changes for the remaining populations in some areas that cause them to be hunted and killed for their properties.  Its heartbreaking and Spencer brings that out in vividly described passages and the character of Rain.

The story is stark and yet, full of hope at the end.  Its a perfect way for Once Upon a Time in the Weird West to come to a close.  But these characters?  They will continue to stay with you for some time yet.  What great stories!  What marvelous world building.  More,  I want much, much more.  I highly recommend this anthology.  Its one of the best I’ve read and it will in my Best of 2016 List!

Cover Artist: Nathie Block.  I just love this cover.  Eye catching and works for the stories.

Sales Links

           

Book Details:

ebook, 400 pages
Expected publication: December 16th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634779185 (ISBN13: 9781634779180)
Edition LanguageEnglish

Barb, A Zany Old Lady Review — Foolish Encounters: A Rainbow Gold Anthology by Angel Martinez, Tinnean, Tali Spencer, Amy Lane, J.C. Wallace, Elin Gregory, and Freddy MacKay

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Foolish Encounters coverThis is a collection of stories in which one or both of the MCs have something happen which disrupts their routine before they have that first chance encounter. As the blurb states, “An accident, a chance encounter, a thought blurted out, a boat blown off course, a change in direction that suddenly runs into the line of fire – the smallest misstep can change everything. These foolish encounters are the moments around which lives pivot and sometimes spin out of control.”

A Message from the Home Office by Angel Martinez
Sissal, a cobra shifter, is sent an assistant to his outpost on planet Earth. The young guy named Rcrred, and nicknamed Richard, is cute, blond, very high strung, and uses his eidetic memory to spout regulations at Sissal every chance he gets. Richard is a dik-dik shifter and is the last thing Sissal wanted in his life. But Sissal adapts to the situation until he discovers that Richard has hacked into his computer and is apparently trying to find something on him to report back to headquarters. Actually, he’s reporting back to a specific officer who has had it in for Sissal for years. This is a very nice story with great world-building, interesting characters, and a plausible, complex storyline. Great for those who like sci-fi/futuristic adventures. 4 stars

Shredding the Heart by JC Wallace
Nicholas is a skateboarder who is hoping to win a national title, and in the meantime is working, going to college part time, and practicing on his skateboard every chance he gets. He’s not only obsessed with skateboarding, though. He’s obsessed with the guy he sees out running every morning, and in an attempt to get closer one morning, he accidently overcompensates on his board, sending it slamming into the man’s head. Quinn is a workaholic, driven to achieve in his high pressure finance job, and hadn’t noticed the gorgeous skateboarder until they both ended up in the hospital together. Eventually, Quinn gives in to Nicholas’s attempts to befriend him, and the two find they have a lot in common. But Quinn’s been burned before and doesn’t give his trust lightly. When he perceives that Nicholas has used him to get sponsorship to attend his next skateboarding event, he cruelly breaks Nicholas’s heart and storms off in a huff.

This is the longest of the stories and was very well done. The author took the time to build a relationship with the men and gave them plenty of time to work out their own issues and for Quinn to realize his own stupidity. Shredding is defined as performing an athletic sport well, and it’s not until Quinn learns how to master his heart that the two can finally find their HEA. Great for those who love a little angst and self-flagellation mixed with their romance. 5 stars

The Lunar Imperative by Elin Gregory
Futuristic sci-fi about Haken, a Vargan sergeant who leads a covert mission to another planet to exterminate the man who escaped their planet with their treasury. One of his soldiers, Raimi, is attracted to Haken but is not of the same rank so Haken hesitates to pursue anything. The Vargans are huge, and shift-shape to beasts during the full moon, often losing their humanity during that time and feasting on each other. However, at this full moon, both Raimi and Haken have been captured. The heart of the story revolves around whether or not they will kill each other, exterminate their captor, or be killed. This is an interesting tale with a lot of world-building for such a short story. If you like non-human species and sci-fi space adventures, you will likely enjoy this one. 3 stars

Blue and Green Persuasion by Tinnean
Stranded aboard The Midnight Ride, a starship which has been floating without power through the galaxies for centuries, Hart accepts that his fate may be to die aboard the ship that was to have transported them to a new world before it lost power. But as they enter a new galaxy, his father, the captain, asks him to power up his pod—a small spaceship that he uses for scouting. As Chief Scout, he will not only drop into a possibly hostile atmosphere, but he may never return to the ship since there’s not enough power to get back. But the reports look good. The planet seems to have both water and land mass, and when he lands he finds an oxygen-rich atmosphere, small animals to use as food, and beautiful, bird-like sentient beings. Kes is such a being and right from the start, they are attracted to each other. But Hart has to direct his father and the other survivors onboard The Midnight Ride as they use shuttle tenders to land in this new world so the men are separated until Hart completes his mission. This was a great story with amazing world-building within so few words. The primary romance, and another between Hart’s brother and one of the soldiers were sweetly done, and we see enough of the promise of a future together to make it a satisfying romance story. 5 stars

Well Hello, Eight Eyes by Tali Spencer
Tanner is out on Lake Michigan when a horrible storm blows up, and he can’t make it back to shore. Shooting for an island, his boat capsizes, and he ends up on Spider Island where the residents don’t seem very happy about saving his life. He’s assigned to Cory as his housemate and “sitter”, and told to stay in the cabin no matter what happens while Cory is gone during the day. He steps onto the porch and is greeted with a scary sight—huge, furry, eight-legged creatures resembling spiders seem to be playing with each other in a nearby field. Needless to say, he gets indoors and doesn’t plan to go out at all the next day. That night, he and Cory get closer and more romantically involved, and he’s starting to wonder if he even wants to leave the island the next day when the supply boat is due to arrive. But before he has to make the choice, he gets a greater shock when he spots a spider indoors with him. What happens next changes the course of his future, and he finds a chance to be happy with Cory in a warm and fuzzy way (pun intended!). 3.5 stars

The Fenestra Penetration by Amy Lane
A fenestra is an opening or a window. Steve is a UPS driver who enjoys imagining what goes on behind the windows he views as he makes his deliveries every day. Usually he can see something inside each window that fires his imagination, but one house on his route has all the shades pulled, and when he sees where the package he’s about to deliver is from, he’s hoping that the guy who lives there is as hot as his imagination makes him out to be. That particular company only produces certain items—the kind of items Steve himself prefers, and when he gets a look at the cute guy who receives the box, he wants more. Eventually, he not only gets it he gets much more than his imagination could have possibly hoped for. A really cute, sweet, hot, well done story packed with humor and romance. 5 stars

The Nut Job by Freddy Mackay
This one is somewhat of an offshoot of “A Message from the Home Office” by Angel Martinez. Spencer is the pilot who dropped off Rcrred and got out of there quickly before Sissal could make him return for the irritating little rik-rik. Spence is a squirrel, or a squirrel-like being, who is on a mission to gather nuts, not only for the people on his planet, but there’s also a little side trip to set himself up with his own private stash. When his assistants, some of whom are large and furry, are spotted and shot at by a human, Spence has to abort his mission, drop his nuts, and try to get his friends to safety. It’s during this escape that he meets Raijin, a human male who is stoned on pot and ’shrooms and doesn’t really believe his own eyes. Over time, and a great deal of bickering, he and Spence start to form an attraction, and when Raijin is injured by that same gun-toting human, Spence does whatever he can to keep him safe, including making Raijin his pet. This is a nutty story (pun intended) in which the author shows a definite sense of humor with the nut jokes. A great way to end the anthology, and though not strictly a romance, there’s hope for one as the story closes. 4 stars

Overall, this is a nice anthology, definitely just perfect for those who enjoy sci-fi since many of the stories were space adventures. I enjoyed some stories more than others, and I’m sure other readers will have their own choices, but overall I enjoyed this very much.

Cover art by Wilde City Press.  Cute cover that works for the anthology.

Sales Links:     Wilde City Press        All Romance (ARe)      Amazon       Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, First, 353 pages
Published April 1st 2015 by Wilde City Press, LLC (first published March 31st 2015)
original titleFoolish Encounters: A Rainbow Gold Anthology
ISBN 1925313069 (ISBN13: 9781925313062)
edition languageEnglish