by Ann Vremont, contemporary (2006)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-59998-154-8
Oh my, someone should have put a warning label on Ann Vremont's Reluctant Muse because there are times when I am reading this book that I am genuinely afraid that I will self-combust because baby, this book is hot. The love scenes can be considered old-school in a time when it sometimes seems impossible to come across a "sexy romance" that doesn't contain threesomes and BDSMs, but the love scenes are so vividly portrayed that they can set the pages on fire. I was complaining recently about love scenes getting too heavy on the descriptions of the mechanics of the act and not enough descriptions of the sensations triggered by the act. Well, Reluctant Muse delivers in both the descriptions of the mechanics as well as the sensory pleasures of the sex act.
Ann Vremont has weaved a fantasy here that I am sure many readers will enjoy getting into. The heroine's name is Bryce Schoene, which takes some getting used to on my part because most of the people named Bryce that I know are men. Anyway, Bryce is a plus-sized heroine, although the issue of her body size and weight is not so prominently emphasized that I don't remember that Bryce is such a heroine until I read the blurb of this story and go, "Oh yes. There's that." At any rate, Bryce is trying to complete a paper that is vital for her graduate degree when she is visited by a strange woman who calls herself a muse. Next thing Bryce knows, she is completely naked outside her neighbor's place. This neighbor happens to be wearing only running shorts and looks gorgeous to boot.
More revelations follow. Contrary to Bryce's expectations, artist Galtero "Walt" Diaz doesn't find her unattractive. In fact, he has been trying to get her to speak to him for a while now and here's his chance. Because he is really attracted to her, he's only telling half the truth when he asks her to pose naked for his latest work. He also wants her very badly, not just as the subject of his latest work. Reluctant Muse is a very attractive fantasy if you like to read about plus-sized heroines discovering that egads, that handsome hot-bodied hunk next door doesn't just like her, he's pretty much hopping all over the place like popcorns on a hot stove dying to have her. I tell you, no matter whether we are small-sized, medium-sized, or big-sized, we all need a neighbor like Walt so that this world be will so much a better place for all of us.
What makes this book not too much of a shameless escapist fantasy pandering to the reader's own fantasies is that Bryce doesn't protest too much about her appeal to Walt and there is no unnecessary "Who? Me? No, I refuse to believe I am cute!" self-pity moments from Bryce. It just happens that she is a big-boned heroine and some men don't find her attractive, so it's understandable that she doesn't expect a guy like Walt to be any different from so many men. To be honest, characterization isn't exactly deep in this story. Walt has some issues about women and his mother, but these issues have a tinge of farce to them, especially when his mother turns out to be an insane caricature that puts Cruela de Vil to shame. This aspect of the story - the Evil Mommy subplot - is the weakest aspect of the story. It doesn't just not work, this subplot, it's ridiculously cartoonish. Still, Walt does the right thing and demonstrates that he's not some dumb fellow who will let his issues cloud his judgment so the story still turns out fine at the end of the day.
At the risk of coming off like a depraved person sorely in need of life, I find the best thing about Reluctant Muse is the evocative nature of the love scenes. Ms Vremont doesn't tell me, yay, her characters are shagging while discreetly hiding a yawn behind her hand, she instead shows me that they are making love with their mouths and fingers and more. These love scenes may lack the colorful ornamentation of BDSM elements that are all the vogue at the time of writing, but they work very well to make this story a genuinely erotic one.
The story may be about a Reluctant Muse, but for me, I am more than happy to give this story my two thumbs up with no hesitation or reluctance on my part. Now someone please be a dear; go make me a glass of iced root beer and turn up the air-conditioner.
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