I don't read a lot of short stories, so I always forget how much I like them. I respect the skill it takes to make a reader understand your characters and care about their lives when you have to tell a story in just a few dozen pages rather than a few hundred. I highly recommend this anthology of romance short stories, because not only are most of them excellently crafted and beautifully written, the writers donated these stories so that 100% of the profits from this anthology supports RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, a U.S. anti-sexual violence nonprofit. Fittingly, every story in the anthology features a scene in which rain is a key plot point.
Redemption - Ruthie Knox
I love Ruthie Knox. When she's at her best, her writing hits me viscerally somewhere right between my sacrum and my solar plexus, low in my belly, hot and raw and a little bit uncomfortable in its urgency. Redemption is a sad story -- Jessie's business is failing and her home is in foreclosure, and Mike has lost his wife, his business, and even his children to a familial betrayal -- but as the title suggests, together Mike and Jessie may be able to build a better life than what they have lost.
The Heart of It - Molly O'Keefe
I've never read anything by O'Keefe before, but I'm definitely going to check out some of her longer works, because I loved this story. Gabe hires an upscale call girl to help him work through the demons of his childhood sexual abuse. This story gave me a lot to think about. Elena is a prostitute, but she's not at all ashamed or desperate, which I found very refreshing. I also found it intriguing that, where sexual intercourse is commerce and there was no question of whether they'd sleep together, the story still explored issues of consent and boundaries but in the context of emotional rather than sexual intimacy.
Sacrifice - Cecilia Tan
This story felt a little out of place in a collection of mostly contemporary romances, set in tenth century Macedonia, about a young Asian woman sold into slavery by her family and given as a virgin sacrifice to a demigod who must sleep with her in order to end a drought. That sort of thing isn't really my cup of tea, but I was impressed with the way Tan explored issues of consent and honor and power dynamics between two people with no cultural common ground nor even a common language.
Real Feelings - Charlotte Stein
This futuristic romance between a human woman and an android is also a little out of place in a collection of contemporaries. I didn't really buy into the premise (android develops free will), so this story didn't really work for me, but Charlotte Stein's sex scenes are always smoking hot and it was a nice change to see the usual sexual politics/power dynamics gender-flipped so that the heroine, not the hero, was the one to wrestle with the morality of consent.
Rainy Season - Mary Ann Rivers
This story had a mild supernatural streak, in that the heroine, barista Lisa Shirek, can literally see the emotional weather of everyone around her (if a customer has a sick parent at home, Lisa sees the customer sitting by mom's hospital bed; if he has lost a lover, Lisa sees the funeral, etc.). The only person Lisa doesn't see clearly is herself, until she meets Mark, who is a sunbeam in a sea of stormy weather.
The Rain in Spain - Amy Jo Cousins
Ms. Cousins is another new-to-me author whom I'll be checking out after reading this heartrending story of a marriage on the rocks, set in Sevilla, Spain. Magda is a free spirit, chafing with frustration at her husband Javi's more structured life, and she wonders if they've made a mistake in thinking that two such different people can build a future together. I thought this story was beautifully written and bittersweet, and I loved how honestly the couple communicated.
Fitting In - Audra North
Audra North writes about Stas Petrovich, a young man determined to fit in at college after a youth spent as an outsider, cruelly taunted by schoolmates because of his gay, immigrant fathers. He wants nothing to do with Leila, aka The Weird Girl, because she's a socially stigmatized outcast shunned because everyone knows she had an abortion and, horrors!, has the audacity not to curl up and die of shame. I didn't love this story because Stas was kind of a douchenozzle, but I loved the subject matter.
Private Study - Shari Slade
Tess Bell goes off to college determined to shake off the yoke of her overprotective, sexually-repressed upbringing, and boy howdy does she ever: she starts a sex vlog to educate herself, and others, about sexuality. But when one of her classmates discovers the vlog and shatters her anonymity, Tess realizes she might not be ready to face the consequences. I really, really related to Tess, though it's been a long time since my own college days: I totally remembered that exact combination of feminist rage, heady freedom, and the cold wake-up call that comes with the shattering of one's sense of youthful invincibility.
Storm Warning - Alexandra Haughton
This is a second-chance romance: Amy returns home from a failed career as an event planner in the big city to meet up with Tom, the erstwhile first love who'd told her that she didn't have what it takes to make it outside of Texas. Can she forgive him, when circumstances have proven him right? This story didn't really work for me because I found it hard to follow the dialogue and Amy seemed really mercurial in her moods, almost to the point of being irrational... but this was the only story in the collection that I didn't like.