Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hardened Hearts Anthology – Book Review

The Hardened Hearts anthology published by Unnerving is a collection of 17 short stories of heartache, heart-breaks, and as the title suggests, hearts that have turned to stone or worse.

Some of the stories in this collection will move you deeply, others will keep you guessing, and some will have you putting your hand on your heart as you try to separate fiction from reality.

The collection encompasses some authors I’ve read in previous anthologies and others that are new to me but whose works I will definitely look forward to in the future.

I have to note in advance that this is an 18+ only anthology owing to some of the content whether in terms of speech, adult scenes or relationships.

Hardened Hearts opens with “40 Ways to Kill Your Monster Lover” by Gwendolyn Kiste, which I don’t recommend you begin the anthology with as I found it boring. Nearly half way through I started skipping parts and barely made it to the end. I recommend moving on to the other gems in the anthology.

"It Breaks My Heart to Watch You Rot" by Somer Canon is a beautiful but very sad and painful piece. I loved Canon's writing style with lots of showing and emotions. The characters don't have names but it's a must-read.

I've read short stories for Calvin Demmer before and I've enjoyed his writing. "What Is Love?" isn't an exception. Mythology-based with a creepy kind of love, this story grabs you from start to finish. It's a little bloody but very well written.

Don't trust your mother's heirlooms, a lesson one character learns the hard way in "Heirloom" by Theresa Braun. The longest story in the collection, the paranormal piece is exciting and definitely a fresh idea. The ending was a little confusing for me but I enjoyed the ride. I liked being part of the story by connecting events and characters as the story progressed.

"Rachel took her seat. As she glimpsed the antique mirror, the glass appeared to tremble. It wasn't the first time her mind had played tricks on her under duress, so she dismissed it." – Big mistake - #justsaying

Speaking in a previous interview with Nadaness In Motion, Braun explained that "Heirloom" is "about a therapist who inherits a mirror that has the power to send her into the past against her will. Her whole world gets turned upside down.

"The Recluse" by John Boden is a very short, creatively-written interesting piece. Four stars to this broken heart.

There are several paranormal stories in Hardened Hearts, including "Dog Tired" by Eddie Generous. The story is full of suspense and Generous feeds the reader bits of background info throughout.

"Too much of a good thing wears and soon that good thing can't compete with a bad thing."

"The Pink Balloon" by Tom Deady is a five-star, absolutely heart-wrenching read. Read with care, because you'll most likely be crying by the end. This piece is followed by another painful read called "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want to" by J.L. Knight. The characters don't have names, which only gives the story a kind of general feel.

"Consumed" by Madhvi Ramani is a sad but different kind of story. I saw a heart actually turn to stone here. Matches the anthology's theme perfectly.

This is followed by Scott PaulHallam's "Burning Samantha", which although moves slowly at first, the reader can't help but feel that something "really bad" is going to happen. I might have gone a little overboard as I had a feeling it would be something like the movie Carrie, but I'm glad it wasn't. Still, it's a sad and strong piece and I liked – and disliked but in a good way - how Hallam kept playing with my nerves.

"When I got up this morning, murdering Alex Stanchon was not on my To-Do list." This is how the "Class of 2000" story by Robert Dean begins. I'll leave you to go from here *grins*

"Learning to Love" by Jennifer Williams is a deep piece with a stunning imagery and a touch of the paranormal. Highly recommended. "My love leaves marks; it is like the rough blade of a knife in need of sharpening."

"Brothers" by Leo X. Robertson came as a surprise to me because I've read for Robertson before and it was exciting. This one didn't appeal to me. It was long; there was a lot of over-the-top cursing and I found the character relationships confusing.

"Porcelain Skin" by Laura Blackwell is a very picturesque and fresh story. Interesting too and highly recommended.

WOW is the first word that came to mind when I finished reading "The Heart of the Orchard" by Erin Sweet Al Mehairi. An excellent dark story, it is definitely one of the best pieces in the collection. In fact I'd recommend you start with it. It's great with the theme and keeps the reader on edge, although you'll also be trying to tell the main character "careful" and "I don't like this" throughout the piece. 5 stars.

"What more did she have to lose?"

"Meeting the Parents" by Sarah L. Johnson is a paranormal, interesting but strange story. I think it might fall under the weird or strange fiction sub-genre.

"Matchmaker" by Meg Elison is the last piece in the collection with lots of mathematical jargon. A 500% geeky story with a good and possibly, dare I say it, "happy" ending; although I can't be sure because it was written in code!  

Overall Hardened Hearts is an interesting assortment of great stories with broken hearts and lots of aches. Overall rating: 4 stars.

Note: I received a free copy of Hardened Hearts in exchange for an honest review.

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