St Martin’s Griffin, $13.95, ISBN 0-312-32877-X
Contemporary Erotica, 2005
This anthology is another “romantic erotica” affair. Which is to say, either this anthology will be so steamy that the windows will fog up even in the hottest of summer days or be so dull that sex comes off like a joyless affair only more pleasant that painting by numbers. In the case of An All Night Man, it’s more like the case of a thoroughly dull and robotic lover who just keeps going on all night while the reader bites the back of her hand to keep from screaming, “Just get it over with so that I can sleep, damn it!”
Brenda Jackson’s The Hunter isn’t steamy as much as it is corny and cheesy. From the opening sentence “Hunter Sloan wondered if a man could die from horniness, and if so, he was about to take his last breath” to the whole nonsense about him being the Player or Hunter or other ridiculous predatory macho man nicknames that went out of fashion with Fabio‘s frilly white shirts, this novella is pure cheese. Unfortunately, it’s a dull kind of cheese where the campy humorous elements are missing. What I get instead is a paint-by-number mediocre Silhouette Desire or Harlequin Blaze thingie where the hero Hunter wants to sleep with the heroine, his ex Mallory Standish, just to get her out of his systems. Of course, she has to come locate him or there will be no story and definitely no ankle-bumpings, so of all the PIs in the country, she has to ask him to help her determine whether her brother-in-law is cheating on her sister. All in all, a too-predictable story filled with too many familiar elements.
Joylynn Jossel’s Just Wanna Love Ya is much more erotic in the sense that sex scenes are more in the enjoyably crude and spicy manner of mainstream dirty fiction than romance. Then again, Ms Jossel writes mainstream women’s fiction, so no surprises there. Unfortunately, this story – of an African-American woman and an Italian man realizing that their fling after a sexy dance at a club have developed into something more – soon turns into an over-the-top cartoonish soap opera. Jai, the heroine, and Sloan, the hero, face ridiculously melodramatic objections and hate from their friends and family members that I find myself waiting for those two to kill themselves in the name of love. Sure, I can understand that there may be some objections from friends and family members, but the sheer number of them in such a short story borders on ridiculous. Just when things can’t get any worse, Sloan turns into a raging asshole too close towards the end of the story and his reconciliation with Jai at the end only reinforces Jai’s victim status. This story is like the work of someone who decides to turn her Romeo and Juliet book report into a masterpiece only to lose the plot along the way.
Kayla Perrin’s Never Satisfied is as melodramatic as the previous novella and as predictable as Brenda Jackson’s. Rachel Milford is a divorcee who has given up on men because (a) her first crush – on her teacher, no less – rebuffs her so she (b) goes off and marries a monstrously abusive man after that. Won’t it be less painful for her to just jump in front of a speeding bus? Rachel is busy building up a career for herself but her teacher, Aaron Hayes, shows up today, nine years after she first made advances to him, and tries to get her to start writing again while providing her the sexual healing that she needs. There could have been a great story of healing and second chances here if the heroine doesn’t behave like a typical neurotic one-dimensional dingbat whose baggages wouldn’t be there in her head if she had thought a little before running into, you know, marriage with a monstrous caricature. Aaron is a one-dimensional Prozac Penis character to provide orgasms and soothing comfort to the tortured Rachel. Whatever, really. It will be nice if Rachel isn’t such a vapid victim caricature in the first place. Survivor-tinged romances are never fun if the victims come off as silly creatures who never learned from their past mistakes and are just lucky that they have a nice man now to save them for themselves.
Tamara Sneed’s Fantasy Man is easily the best of the bunch because the author seems to understand that sometimes, in a novella, it’s best to just have the characters enjoy making love and falling in love instead of working their way through badly-developed tortured subplots. Olivia Hawkins is an employee in her family-run PR agency and Clark Stone is the movie star client of the agency for the last six months. Olivia has been very rude to him because she thinks that he is some no-good playboy. Who cares about keeping the clients happy, right? Business isn’t run the same way in romance novel stories as in real life, after all. Now, when she has to escort Clark around town because her brother is occupied elsewhere, Clark decides that turnaround is fair play and he’ll be as childish as her. So he acts outrageously petty and childish around Octavia. But unusual circumstances will bring them closer at the end of the day. This story is a typical Frigid Brighid and Peter the Playa story and the characters are quite childish at start. But at the end of the day, at least they have fun, some convincing chemistry, and a decent chance at convincing me that they will have a happily ever after, which is more than I can say about the train wrecks in the previous novellas.
This anthology is no big deal if the package doesn’t come with vivid imagination, mischief, and fun. Or at least, something that doesn’t make me yawn and wish I’ve feigned a headache instead of taking on An All Night Man.
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