by Lori Foster, Janelle Denison, and Donna Kauffman; contemporary (2002)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0134-6
Brava's historical erotic romances are on steady ground, if a little too overreliant on Robin Schone and Susan Johnson, but why oh why does its contemporary line feels like a Harlequin Blaze food fight in a madhouse? Indeed, the three stories in here are actually Harlequin Blaze inanities, stripped of their plot and added a few inches of erection to pad the "hot" quota. The heroines are insanely ignorant about sex and unbelievably neurotic that I am hard pressed to even think of them as contemporary women. Maybe contemporary aliens from Planet Gaaguunda, maybe.
It's a toss-up, really, whose story is the worst, Lori Foster's or Donna Kauffman's. Let's start with Ms Foster, her story kicks off this anthology. Indulge Me, it's called, and it's about this Virgin Queen Becky Harte entering a sex toy shop and getting the rogering of her life by this man working with her, George Westin. She's in her twenties, he's pushing forty, so yeah, sugar daddy time baby!
Don't get me started about a sex store opened in the middle of a conservative small town, unless it's one of those Twilight Zone shops where the evil storekeeper will spirit you to an alternate dimension ruled by demon nurses holding giant needles filled with Maalox. Don't get me started about Becky, her friends Asia and Erica. Any males out there having lesbian threesome fantasies starring Asia, Becky, and Erica, porn star bunnies?
Then Becky sees her first porn video (from description, it seems like one of those cheap, tame softporn pay-per-view stuff you get on cable) and it's braindead time. Gosh, she is shocked! Do people kiss down there? (No, dear, they put on raincoats and read aloud Faulks to each other.)
There is mild bondage in this story, but Becky is so unbelievably neurotic and "pure" (in a ridiculous way) that I have a hard time swallowing the notion that this child-like woman is actually being tied up and buggered silly. I mean, it feels morally wrong or something.
Let's skip Janelle Denison's novella for later (it's the only decent one of the three) and take a look at Donna Kauffman's ...And When They Were Bad. This is a sex club story. Our hero Cameron "Not The King Of The World!" James IV heads off to a sex club in some distant place where they have all sorts of perverted sex games. I say "perverted" because they actually make the participants play stupid games like Body Mango Relay (I'm renaming this one because the actual name is much, much worse) and Body Puzzle. What is this? Ronald McDonald's birthday party?
Our heroine Allison Walker is a nerd. Because we all know that nerds never have sex or any libido, the first moment someone touches her, she needs rescuing by our hero. It's like a deer joining the local Carnivores' Barbecue Night - again, it is legal that such child-like simpleton woman be rogered by an adult?
Incidentally, Allison, since the objective of the Body Mango Race is to pass a fruit around with your naked body (no hands or mouth please), I can easily imagine a place where you can stuff your mango where it won't drop easy. In fact, if he tries to dig it out, it may be fun for the both of you too. But what does Allison, brainy scientist, know, huh? Dingbat.
Oh, and if I go to a sex club, I want orgies, lots of orgies. Naked people having sex in interesting positions, chains and whips and crucifixes optional, and everyone's welcome to the party. If I want a rescue fantasy of a sexually retarded heroine, I'll go bite a Harlequin Blaze. Oh wait.
Finally, Janelle Denison's Naughty By Night. It gets my vote if only for the vibrator that plays an interesting role in a pivotal scene. This is strictly a hero returning to small town to screw that bimbo that got away thing, but at least Chloe Anderson and Gabe Mackenzie are intellectually mature enough to have sex. The plot is painful - she wants a last fling because he walked out on here ages ago while they were this close to doing it, but he plans on sticking around. After sex comes the "I love you!" and it's the end. Chloe and Gabe mourn and whine about That Night tad too much, especially when it happened six years ago (how neurotic and sad can you get?), but hey, at least I'm convinced that Chloe has grown pubic hair. Which is more than I can say about the Brainwashed Barbies of the other two stories.
Oh, and what kind a guy will say things like "I came in a hot, scalding rush that made my toes curl"? Er, Ms Denison, I know you are writing for women and we women don't like swear words and all, but really, dear - "came in a hot, scalding rush"? And a man says things like that? His toes curling, for goodness sake! Does he recite bad poetry during his orgasm too ("Oh baby!/Feel my knob, lady!/My veiny shaft/Bulbous balls/Molten spurts/Take it all!")?
The entire anthology feels like a hatchet job. It is as if these authors take their latest Harlequin Blaze submissions, rip out everything but the most cursory of plot and character development, and add in another thousand words to pad up the sex scenes. Sure, it can be hot, if you find over-the-top virginal/neurotic/frigid and criminally sexually oblivious heroines getting deflowered sexy. Maybe it's time Brava signs up some authors from the Secrets line or something, instead of giving lunch money to series authors who can't stop equating virginity with devastating state of mental retardation.
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