Friday, 4 December 2015

Echoes of Winter by Various Authors (Echoes Anthology, #2) - Book Review - Indie

4/5 Stars

"Life sucks and every small or large thing we go through leaves our hearts hardening a little more."

"It's only love that reminds us to thaw from time to time."

-- Quote from Twelve Days Until Christmas by L.A. Starkey


Edition: Kindle
Pages: 915
Chapters: There are twelve parts of the novel, with their own varying number of chapters.
Publisher: BrixBaxter Publishing

Book Links: Goodreads

A list of the thirteen short stories inside this anthology along with their authors:

Book 1: Twelve Days Until Christmas by L.A. Starkey
Book 2: Christmas Seasoning by D.B. Nielsen
Book 3: Merry Chris Witch by C.K. Dawn
Book 4: Wrapped in the Past by Chess Desalls
Book 5: Butterflies in the Snow by D.E.L. Connor
Book 6: The Darkest Night of the Year by Tim Hemlin
Book 7: Cold Hearth by Kelly Hall
Book 8: Code X by W.J. May
Book 9: Good Saint Nick by Lu J. Whitley
Book 10: Soaring by K.K. Allen
Book 11: A Spirit's Last Gift by Kathy-Lynn Cross
Book 12: Winter Trials by K.S. Marsden
Book 13: The Edge by Fleur Camacho


Forewarning, folks, this review could be long. Echoes of Winter by the authors you see above is a nifty little thing crammed with short stories, all of which burst with festive joy and budding romance. It's a fantastic idea, and as the holidays are upon us, how could I refuse such a winter-themed collection? 

I'll be doing something a little different from my usual reviews (which is why this'll take me forever). Instead of my normal divisions for the plot, pace, characters and writing, with this anthology I'll list each individual story with its own star rating and a little mini-review.

Be prepared for an eclectic bunch of books. I will say if you're thinking of grabbing this little (not so little) gem (and I really think you should), pace yourself. Read a short story a day; I dived in and it's a little jarring, as most of the stories contain a lot of similar themes and progressions. In particular, the romance and Christmas elements. 

Book 1: Twelve Days Until Christmas by L.A. Starkey - 4/5 Stars

Starting us off, Starkey weaves a cold tale about selfishness and hate. Focusing on Jessie Young, the plot takes us down a slippy slope as the darkness inside our young protagonist threatens to harden her heart, literally. The story isn't instantly apparent, but Jessie is. The author does a phenomenal job with her right from the start; she's funny, cynical and always has a wisecrack ready to fly.

As we progress the plot takes on shades of mystery with the introduction of the chilling Jack, and the tension ratchets up as things start to get strange. But, as I said up top, most of these stories hold predominantly romance-focused threads. Some work well with the Christmas theme, and Starkey's addition to this anthology manages to balance on the fence. The lovey-dovey aspects aren't too imposing, with a real sense of spark and history behind them. 

With this supernatural cracker, the twist isn't too hard to see coming, but the messages of joy, love and family kick Echoes of Winter off with a good start.

Book 2: Christmas Seasoning by D.B. Nielsen - 3/5 Stars

Taking a break from the mystical, we hop into the viewpoint of young Ellie Henderson, whose brother is getting married this winter. And, yep, there's a Bridezilla on the loose. Christmas Seasoning is perhaps the heaviest to focus on romance, with it being the main plot without any other threads around it. For me, it can overbear the warm, family feel Nielsen takes the time to build.

Why? Well, instalove should pretty much cover it. A few increments of this anthology fall victim to this. Being short stories, there's barely enough time to build the characters, let alone build them together.

But, I digress, who doesn't love a little bit of romance? Especially at this time of year.

With a lovely writing flow and beautiful descriptions, Nielsen creates a unique cast to fuel the story. The feel of family is perhaps the best element, with Ellie and her brother being essentially orphans, and the bride's family work to fill a hole in them both.

I haven't mentioned the love interest, mainly because Ellie's not a good character around him...

Book 3: Merry Chris Witch by C.K. Dawn - 4/5 Stars

The first short to jump into the world of witches! Chris Heron, our witchy main character, isn't in the best of moods this Christmas. He's been expelled from his all-witch school, and forced to attend a public school, where every magical creature congregates. It's here he meets Nichole, a mysterious young woman with deep family connections to the festive holiday.

Dawn tones down her romance, it's still a little too quick, but the overall plot is definitely magical. I love, love, love the lore and world. The supernatural aspects are beyond fun and the mission Chris and Nichole end up with is Christmas gold.

There are also some heartwarming themes of giving rather than receiving.

Book 4: Wrapped in the Past by Chess Desalls - 4.5/5 Stars

Now we're getting right into the Christmas spirit! With a little time travel, Shirlyn and her family jump back to a time closely connected to the festivities. You know, the night three wise magi crossed the desert following the Star of Bethlehem?

We're treated to a fascinating journey through history with subtle adjustments from Chess's imagination. The magic, the sci-fi, even the romantic thread, are all well-blended. It's certainly less in-your-face; a spark between Shirlyn and Balthazar instead of undying love. The language barrier is also a nice touch, forcing the two of them to communicate using craftier methods.

A great adventure. (And if you've read Ms Desalls's work Travel Glasses, you just might remember Wrapped in the Past's protagonist...)

Book 5: Butterflies in the Snow by D.E.L. Connor - 3.5/5 Stars

Rose doesn't want romance, her only wish is to spend time with her mother and sister on Christmas. So she steals enthralled Josh's car and races to them, and the danger that resides there. But Josh is fast on her heels. Butterflies in the Snow starts a tad awkwardly, with a disjointed structure and hard-to-follow threads. When it straightens out, Rose's dark past becomes a welcome focus, and this short definitely channels some heavy emotion.

Apart. From. The. Instalove. It feels too bullish and broken and fast. It clashes harshly with the more adult-like themes.

Overall, the story is engaging and often chilling.

Book 6: The Darkest Night of the Year by Tim Hemlin - 4.5/5 Stars

More witches! And Hemlin crafts his own unique corner. Bobby Hawthorne is devout in his love for the Christmas period, and the magic that comes with it, but when mystical creatures start to hide, and his girlfriend disappears, Bobby will have to dig through the dark to bring her back. A very strong start leads on to boast some rapturous lore. 

Not all the mechanics and intricacies are elaborated on, but with the length, it's not a problem. Most of these stories require a little suspension of your disbelief, and it goes a long way to making them just that bit more magical.

A pre-established romance resides here, so the love is easier to swallow and balances well with the other plots.

Book 7: Cold Hearth by Kelly Hall - 5/5 Stars

Boy, oh, boy! Hall crams a lot of supernaturally thrilling stuff into her short, and, remarkably, pulls it all off. We follow Dominic and Dahlia Dane, twins, witches, outcasts. Banished from their coven and lost in conflict and darkness, both characters struggle in a story full of betrayal, revenge and mysticism. 

There's a great, ominous beginning; a solid progression of suspense; and nice twists for a story that hasn't had long to build to them.

It's a little rushed on the ending, but it definitely leaves you wanting more.

Book 8: Code X by W.J. May - 4/5 Stars

Does anyone else get a really strong Dollhouse feel from this one?

Enter Whitney, a gifted hacker and vigilante. She revels in devouring the secrets people hide inside the dark web, destroying the evil that uses the medium to spread. But when Whitney is dragged into something bigger than she's ever faced, her relative safety behind the computer screen is threatened.

Code X is more thriller than YA, and it works wonders. An exciting start that's engaging and intriguing. We also don't focus on romance at all, giving the reader a nice reprieve. There are a few coincidences that line up just too perfectly, but I like what May's gone for: A conspiracy plot with a super-secret organisation in the centre.

Book 9: Good Saint Nick by Lu J. Whitley - 3.5/5 Stars

This short is almost like a Santa's origin story, but to begin with it doesn't give you much in the way of information, so there's a lot of confusion. Nicklaus works for Kringle & Sons Workshop, but is desperate to escape and see what the outside world holds. When young Edie enters his life, he gets his chance.

Some more instalove, but let's move past that. Good Saint Nick is a fun adventure. While Nick, our main, is underwhelming, Edie more than makes up for him. The warehouse's uncouth deeds are a wonderful contrast to the selfless actions our characters get up to as they right wrongs. 

A nice, feel-good resolution cements this story with a healthy dose of festive cheer.

Book 10: Soaring by K.K. Allen - 4/5 Stars

Soaring suffers from the perpetual instalove within Echoes of Winter. Emma and Luke meet on a cruise under the Aurora Borealis. Connected, the two's future becomes uncertain as their pasts slowly return to haunt them.

It's the slow start that does the most damage, because Allen's short for sure holds the best twist. It's awe-inspiring how it's set up, especially in the length given. But, with gasp-inducing shock, it's pulled off.

There are also some lovely messages concerning living your life to the fullest. Allen deftly paints this in a way that encompasses all tastes and passions. Don't 'live' the way someone else thinks you should, live the way that makes YOU happy. But, don't be afraid to accept a nudge and step out of your comfort zone once in a while.

Book 11: A Spirit's Last Gift by Kathy-Lynn Cross - 4/5 Stars

Cross's addition has a similar flavour to Allen's, with ghost and romance threads intertwined. Keeping it separate and unique however, the author takes us on an adventure of a girl in love who dies before she can open up. But Juslynn isn't gone, at least not yet, she's returned with unfinished business. 

An exceedingly sweet and intriguing short about love and sacrifice. The mysterious elements come together well to form some pretty nifty twists and developments. The shock of the paranormal aspects is also welcome.

Book 12: Winter Trials by K.S. Marsden - 5/5 Stars

Another instalment that fills itself up with wonder and pulls it off. Marsden continues the romance, but with a breath of fresh air that defies the precedent set by the shorts that come before. Opting for a same-sex relationship, the author paces the development and avoids the dreaded instalove, leaving room for thought and progression that are natural. 

But that's not all, Marsden wraps it all up with a witchy bow, and the supernatural threads are engaging and extraordinary. We follow Mark, a descendant in a long line of powerful witches. A beginner in the arts of magic, he meets a new and mysterious transfer at his school who's in trouble of the demonic kind.

Everything helps balance the plot out. The lore is fascinating; the characters diverse; and the gay flavour gives the reader a welcome new taste.

I need more!

Book 13: The Edge by Fleur Camacho - 3/5 Stars

Fleur throws us into the danger and action right from the start, and it's a fitting finale to this anthology. Laura's back yard is engulfed in flames that have come out of nowhere; equally mysterious, is the burning man who walks out from their source, dragging Laura into the transcendent world of the heavens.

The instalove is strong with this one, and it majorly pummeled my enjoyment. I can't connect with the relationship, and every other sentence is about one of the two lovers' hair, or eyes, or jaw, or, or... You get the picture. You get the picture a lot.

The supernatural is varied and vivid, helping offset the romance a touch.

Scenes shift without warning, and the ending is jumbled, but the action makes it a quick and enjoyable read.

Overall - 4/5 Stars

If you're a lover of love and in the mood for romance and festive joy, Echoes of Winter should definitely be in your stocking this month. 

Previous Instalment: Darkness Echoes

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