Charmed by Jayne Castle, Julie Beard, Lori Foster & Eileen Wilks
(Berkley, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-17129-9
****
Charmed has a lot of charm, as well as some very entertaining short stories. This collection of fantasy tales has a bit of everything: sci-fi, time travel, and, since it ’tis the Halloween season, a fair assortment of ghosts and goblins.

Leading off the pack is Jayne Castle, a.k.a. Jayne Ann Krentz, with "Bridal Jitters," a sci-fi fantasy. Psychic archeologist Virginia Burch is having second thoughts about entering into a 2-year marriage of convenience with ghost-hunter Sam Gage. Virginia’s feelings for Sam are too deep for her to be happy with just a business relationship.

As Virginia tries to figure out to how tell Sam she's having second thoughts about their relationship, their business is plagued with some nasty tricks and traps around Halloween. This puts Sam and Virginia in danger and they have to rely on each other's expertise to survive. "Bridal Jitters" is good basic romance in a sci-fi setting. It also has its own sci-fi-type language, which I liked, but others might find a little difficult to follow.

Julie Beard's "Man in the Mirror" is a time-travel romance. Katie Montgomery drops out of medical school and has turned her back on becoming a doctor until she reaches out to man in pain.

The man happens to be in a mirror and reaching out to him lands Katie back in the time of King Arthur. Although reluctant to try and treat this man, Katie can't turn her back on his need for her help or her need to help him.

"Man in the Mirror" is a strong story about love bringing out the best in a person. The problem I had with this tale is that you (and the heroine) fall in love with the man in the mirror, only find out he's not the man she's destined to be with.

"Tangled Dreams" by Lori Foster is hot; the sexual tension between the hero and heroine is terrific -- think Linda Howard writing with a touch of Halloween whimsy. I very much liked this funny, heated story of a man reading the intimate thoughts of a woman who wants him. Also, this tale has lots of Halloween flavor, with a genuine haunted house and some matchmaking ghosts.

The final tale, "Pandora's Bottle," by Eileen Wilks poses the following question: If you have to choose between a solid, dependable, sexy, but too serious man, or the fun, irresponsible sexy djinn of your dreams, who would you choose? The answer may not be easy for a heroine who's gifted, but doesn't practice witchcraft.

Charmed is a bit of a mixed bag, with stories that include sci-fi, time-travel, witches and ghosts. However all four stories are good and do contain a Halloween angle, however slight. So if you're looking for some seasonal fantasy reading, Charmed is an entertaining place to start.

--Judith Flavell


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