Just One Sip
by Katie MacAlister, Jennifer Ashley & Minda Webber
(Love Spell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52659-X
With Katie MacAlister leading the pack, it’s safe to assume that this latest vampire anthology is going to fall under the “light-hearted” and “humorous” umbrella. Unfortunately it also falls under the “infuriating” and “brain-melting” ones as well.

Jennifer Ashley gets things going with “Viva Las Vampires.” Miranda Black is in Las Vegas researching her latest non-fiction book about vampires. She finds herself at the Transylvania Castle casino, where guests can parade in capes, fangs and have a drink at the Coffin Bar. She catches the eye of the owner, Stefan Erickson, who happens to be a real vampire master. Unfortunately his powers have been depleted and he believes that drinking Meredith’s blood will restore them. Unfortunately, Meredith must be willing to give her blood – he cannot sneak up on her and just take it. But how to convince her? Well how about brain washing her? Ahhh, can you feel the romance?

This story gets off to an extremely bad start and never recovers. Meredith is invited up to Stefan’s penthouse and when no one answers her knock she walks right in and proceeds to fall into his pool. How evolution allowed her to slip through the cracks is anyone’s guess. Stefan is no better. He really needs Meredith’s blood so does the whole Jedi Mind Meld thing on her, and while she fights it, she keeps almost calling him Master. The author must have realized that a heroine with no free will isn’t exactly sexy (or romantic), so she tries to rectify it with the ending – which does help some. Still, it’s a bitter aftertaste. On the bright side, the villain is pretty cool.

Next up is Katie MacAlister’s “Bring Out Your Dead” which will likely confuse readers not already familiar with the author’s Dark Ones paranormal series. Ysabelle is a counselor for zombies and a part-time tutor. She also has two souls, which makes her very valuable to various bad guys. She runs up against a banished Dark One named Sebastian, who believes she is his Beloved – that is she can restore his lost soul. But first he must save her from a demon, put aside his plans for revenge, all while a troop of zombies and an obnoxious youngster follow them around London.

This story feels like novel shrunken down to 100 pages. There’s a whole lot crammed in here, and very little of it is explained. Essentially, the author is relying on the reader all ready being familiar with this series in order to understand the world-building and most of the characters – namely Sebastian who apparently played a smaller role in other books (I’m guessing Sex, Lies and Vampires since he’s really ticked off with the hero from that story). Fans might enjoy it, but newcomers will likely be left scratching their heads.

Minda Webber’s “Lucy and the Crypt Casanova” has the most unique premise in the anthology, but it’s wasted on characters that need to be (at the very least) shot. Lucy is the host of a Jerry Springer style talk show that features guests who have brushes with the paranormal. However, she wants to be taken seriously, and her show is really a joke. She gets wind of an incubus running amok in New Orleans, one who feeds on the youth of young women and ultimately kills them by rabidly aging them. Her snooping lands her back into the arms of her ex, vampire and police officer, Val. She caught Val in a compromising position with a sexy vampiress, and instead of letting him explain and grovel; she runs off in a tantrum and refuses to listen. Needless to the say, she’s never gotten over him.

Both of these characters drove me insane. Lucy starts out very charming and likeable, but her downright refusal to listen to anything Val has to say is incredibly grating. And while he was caught in a compromising position, he follows after her, begs her to listen to him, and she essentially slams the door in his face. So needless to say, Val is fed up and while I can’t really blame him, he does end up treating Lucy like crap over the course of this story.

“What kind of love can there be without trust? With a woman not willing to listen?” Good question Val poses don’t you think? And although apologies are exchanged and a happily ever after occurs – I don’t believe it. I wonder - does the paranormal world have marriage counselors?

All in all this is a disappointing anthology. Between a hero who tries to brainwash a heroine, to a series-laden story sure to perplex novices, to an unbelievable romance featuring a non-communicative couple, this reviewer’s advice is to think twice before baring your neck to any of these fellows.

--Wendy Crutcher

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