July 9, 2014

Review: Summer Rain Anthology

Cover description: blue background, a man and a woman kiss under an umbrella he is holding.
Source: Review copy provided by one of the authors. 

This review is going to be long, so let’s jump right into it.


Redemption by Ruthie Knox tells the story of two unlucky people punished by the economy (as well as some unwise and bizarre business decisions) and how they come together and find solace in each other.

Basically, this novella is a unicorn, also known as a doom-and-gloom small-town contemporary. Blink and you’ll miss the magic of two miserable people whose future is uncertain, falling in comfort with each other. It has a hopeful ending that doesn’t promise much to either reader or characters, but that perfectly fits the tone of the story.

Grade: 4


The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe (Trigger Warning: Child sexual abuse) is about a man dealing with the consequences of what happened to him when he was a kid and the high-class escort with a heart of gold that kind of cures him through tough-love and a couple fumbling sexual encounters.

I liked this one quite a bit, in part because it doesn’t follow the traditional romance structure, so she doesn’t cure him as much as let him take the first step towards a more fulfilling personal life. I can’t say more without spoiling it, so I’ll be vague and add that the length didn’t allow for the character development to happen on page, and that the cute, sick kid that’s used as a prop illustrates how the HEA can, at times, be constrictive rather than freeing.

Grade: 3.5


Rainy Season by Mary Ann Rivers features a heroine with the ability to reduce people to their saddest moment. I’m not sure whether she was projecting her own feelings or if she actually had a supernatural power, but to her, these people were consumed and defined by pain and sadness.

And then a boy shows up and all she sees in him is light and no sadness, so of course she falls for him.
I honestly don’t know what to make of this one. I liked the romance and its melancholic tone, but the heroine got on my nerves while at the same time made me feel guilty for having such a negative reaction to someone who was depressed. The supernatural element played a role in my dislike, but then again, I’m not sure if there was a supernatural element or not.

It isn’t the best novelette in the collection, but, as you’re about to see, it’s not the worst either.

Grade: 3


Each novelette includes a Dear Reader letter. Some of them do nothing but offer a general description of the plot and main character, but in others the explanation is about authorial intention and objectives, which I find presumptuous at best and intrusive at worst. It is for me to decide what a book does and doesn’t achieve. I don’t need seeds planted or intentions explained, because it makes me think that if by any chance I happen to interpret the story in a different, perhaps even negative, way, then it’s going to be on me for reading the book wrong, given that, hey, you already told me what the book was trying to do.

Sacrifice by Celia Tan (Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Slavery) is the biggest offender of the bunch. The Dear Reader letter includes this:
"What if I could write a multicultural exploration of the meanings of consent and honor without ever using those words? If I could, then you’d have this story."
And then opens with the hero putting his fingers inside the unconscious, naked, vulnerable heroine to check if she’s a virgin. I guess the letter forgot to mention that this is also about the redemption of the rapist through the love of his victim. A fitting theme, if you ask me, considering this anthology is to benefit an anti-sexual violence organization.

I have no patience for rapist heroes, even if they come with a Fantasy, pro-rape culture attached to them. So I decided to not finish the book even if it meant that I was depriving myself of this wonderful multicultural exploration of the meaning of consent and honor*.

Grade: DNF, but the letter gets a 0.


Charlotte Stein's Real Feelings also includes a similar letter. This is what it says:
"I guess my story is going to seem quite strange, nestled in between mostly sexy contemporaries. But the idea of free will when applied to an android just grabbed me hard—it always has. And I just loved the idea of someone realizing how absolutely important consent and choices are, no matter how much the situation or society suggests otherwise. This was a way for me to explore and show my love for that idea, without delving into our painful present. Instead, I wanted to give a glimpse of a hopeful future."
This letter was equally intrusive, and unfortunately, it promised things that the story fell short to deliver.

We’re confronted with a near future in which sex robots that look and act human are sold to fulfill the customers’ every need. The heroine purchases one of them just to spend most of the novella neurotically debating whether to fuck it or not. In the meantime, the robot shows that he’s more than a toy and has actual feelings and memories of his previous owners’ less considerate treatment.

They don’t have sex until he uses his will to consent, but was the consent real? To me, it looked like a robot attaching to the first owner that didn’t treat him like a product. She believes that he’s human enough to freely consent, but he isn’t human enough to be set free. His freedom is an illusion, he has no experience, and the reason why he was made still informs his actions. This isn’t about someone realizing “how absolutely important consent and choices are” but about someone convincing herself that a very limited consent is enough to take advantage of someone. She already knows consent and choices are important, which is why she comes up with a guilt-free way to bypass them.

It surely is an interesting, thought-provoking premise, but the execution was clumsy and perhaps needed more pages to further explore the characters and to make their decisions and actions less problematic.

Grade: 2.5


The Rain in Spain by Amy Jo Cousins is the second story I couldn’t finish. It’s about a bored young couple who, after a brief acquaintance, decided their insta-love was excuse enough to get married. A year later, she is having second thoughts that lead her to believe that he is having second thoughts as well. These two are the type of immature characters that make it hard for me to believe in their particular brand of HEA, so I’m not interested in reading what happens after, especially if it involves swallowing another unbelievable HEA. Also, it had bad Spanish. Most of the mistakes were fixed in the finished copy, but a couple remained, and I have no patience for that.

Grade: DNF


Fitting In by Audra North had the subtlety of an After School Special, but I liked the college setting, and I loved the heroine. Both main characters were dealing with shame, but whereas he internalized it, she never let society shame her into regretting the decision she made.

Grade: 3.5


Like the previous story, Shari Slade’s Private Study wasn’t particularly subtle, but it was one of my favorite contributions to the collection. It’s about a young woman who has been sheltered and overprotected her whole life, whose choices have been made for her, and who is crumbling under the weight of her father’s pressure to be someone she isn’t. Granted, part of it is inner-drama blown out of proportion by her age and inexperience, but she takes action and decides that she can at least take control over her own body and pleasure, which in turn empowers her in other aspects of her life.

Ironically, Private Study is very good at portraying slut shaming and rape culture in a college setting, and yet the organization that will benefit from the anthology doesn’t seem to believe in rape culture.

That aside, Ms. Slade’s novella is a lovely, sex-positive story.

Grade: 4


Storm Warning by Alexandra Haughton it’s a standard friends-to-lovers story set in a small town. It features a heroine whose big city dreams came crashing down, so she’s back in the town she hates to figure out what to do with so much failure. The answer, of course, is to reconnect with the friend/crush she left behind and decide that big cities are overrated.

I sure am glad this was the final novelette, because after reading Ruthie Knox’s story, I was starting to think that small towns were not as idyllic and perfect as I thought they were, so it felt good to end the book on such a generic, predictable note.

Grade: 2.5


As is usual with anthologies, especially those with as many contributors as this one, this collection was a mixed bag. But sadly, we can’t win them all. The good news is that it’s not an expensive book, and some of the stories are worth reading.

Finally, the proceeds will be donated to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). I’m not the biggest fan of these charity anthologies, but it’s something to take into consideration (whether for good or bad) when making the decision to purchase the book.

*Dear Reader, that was sarcasm.

Purchase: Amazon
What happens when love gets caught in the rain? 
In this romance anthology, RITA-Award winning author Molly O’Keefe shows us the power of a city thunderstorm from the top of a skyscraper, while Amy Jo Cousins soaks us in a rain in Spain. New York Times bestselling author Ruthie Knox’s heroine is devastated by a winter storm, while a summer thunderstorm grants Alexandra Haughton’s hero and heroine a second chance at love. Rain sparks self-awareness in the robot in Charlotte Stein’s story and allows Mary Ann Rivers’s heroine to fall in love with her hero and her own art. Rain causes romance between the college students in Audra North’s and Shari Slade’s stories, while romance causes rain in Cecilia Tan’s myth-inspired tale of a sacrifice to a demi-god. Nine romance novelettes, edited by Sarah Frantz. 
All proceeds from the volume will be donated to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (www.rainn.org), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States.
Summer Rain by Ruthie Knox et al. Edited by Sarah Frantz

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