Ellora’s Cave, $9.99, ISBN 1-4199-0085-4
Mixed Genre Erotica, 2005
The fourth in the Tales from the Temple series by Ellora’s Cave is a vast improvement over the too-formulaic third volume. There are some stories here that offer pleasant entertainment and great love scenes, although there are some that are hilariously awful. Ah, but that is a cross that readers of anthologies have to bear.
Denise A Agnew’s Night Screams is part of the author’s Special Investigations Agency. Maybe these people can investigate where heroine Evelyn Layne has lost her brain. This idiot always wants to be a Special Investigations Agent and she has a crush on the agent Conall Tierney. One day, working late, Evelyn hears a scary noise taking place in the darkened hallway. She takes a stapler and bravely wanders into the very dark hallway and crashes straight into a monster who then proceeds to rip her to shreds as she screams gruesomely, “Oh, to be born with a brain…” I’m just kidding, unfortunately. She bumps into the hero instead. Where’s my eyeroll emoticon?
Oh, and Conall’s a vampire. Since romance hero vampires tend to be attracted to braindead and sexually incompetent heroines, they are a match made in heaven. I am screaming for the monster (yes there is one) to eat up the both of them but alas, this monster can’t even do the job when those two idiots are stupidly boinking when they know there are monsters waiting in the dark for them. Gah, all of them are idiots. No wonder the agency is a top secret one. If it isn’t, everyone in it will be ridiculed out of town.
Tawny Taylor’s Body Chemistry is silly but pure fun nonetheless. Lukas Brenner is a nerd, although true to romance novel standards, this means that he is one major hunk who just happens to be wearing glasses and baggy clothes. Lukas’ problem is that he is so awkward, socially, that he tends to drive away women the moment he opens his mouth. No, no, he doesn’t have bad breath or anything – I hope – he just doesn’t know how to say the right things to a lady. Allie Larson, our heroine, has a thing for championing underdogs and in her opinion, Lukas qualifies as one. When Lukas, a researcher, accidentally gets some chemicals on him one night that turns him into a pheromone-oozing magnet for women, Allie decides to extricate the poor fellow from being swamped by hoards of willing, sexy women – I know, that poor, poor man indeed – and ends up in bed with him. For Lukas, this is a dream come true because he has always harbored a crush on Allie. But is Allie’s desire real or just a product of his research material spilled on his skin? While the story is too short for depths when it comes to characterization, Lukas comes off as a genuine sweetie while Allie comes off as his perfect foil. Both are right for each other so the chemistry is credible, making this short story an eminently enjoyable tale.
Anne Windsor’s Earthwork is some futuristic caveman romance story where our hero, Dram Wolfel, called the Warrior of Ais, learns that the only way to save the continent of Northwestland (previously North America) is by saving sex with Keli Dunkirk, his destined bond mate and all that usual… thing. Keli is a healer, yawn. Dram is an alpha male, yawn. Mate! Dominate! No! Yes! Mate! Sometimes I wish real life is like these stories, where all we need to do to save the world is by having sex with a hot guy. Where do I sign up? If you’re still not bored by the whole alpha-male dominates quivering-ninny shtick, you may find this one enjoyable.
Shiloh Walker’s Ghost of a Chance is a decent read because the author tries to create with some success some poignant drama between the two lovers in the story. Unfortunately, the premise is not new and the story unfurls exactly like so many stories that have used this premise have done in the past. Our heroine Dr Chelsea Jane Stivers (lost her job – it’s not her fault, of course – and has no other options in the life, the usual) returns to the home she hates (because of her memories of her nasty daddy) only to go upstairs to the attic and discover a journal containing lurid, sorry, touching (hmm, touching) details of a tragic love affair. It turns out that she’s the reincarnation of the owner of the journal, Katherine Greene, and the ghost of her husband, Collin Lucas Frost, has been waiting for her to “find” him again. But there is evil in the house that has to be overcome before these two can find a happy ending. CJ and Luke are rather one-dimensional Happy, Happy Lovers but the story is fine because the plot feels like it’s a well-woven and essential part of the story (as opposed to stupid reasons just to get two people naked and shagging) and the characters’ love story comes off as more essential than the sex scenes.
Past Running by Mlyn Hurn will be a great one if the main characters aren’t straight out of a stereotype mold. Aeryn Michaels’ ex-husband Craig Morelli turned out to be a no-good smooth talker who is currently serving time for armed robbery. Aeryn predictably doesn’t care for men again, yadda yadda yadda. The sheriff Devlin McDonald has his suspicions about Aeryn hiding Craig’s bank heist loot but all sense of professionalism flies out the door when he sees what a babe she is. Things become a little more exciting when Craig breaks out of jail and he and his brothers take Aeryn and her sisters hostage. Nobody in this story seems to have much sense. Craig seems more concerned about Aeryn sleeping with her ex-husband rather than her actual safety. Aeryn is a stereotype in her background and actions. The whole premise isn’t credible and the story comes off as yet another silly set-up just to get people to lose their clothes and start boinking.
Jaid Black’s The Beckoned is a time-travel story. Puwai Ashley has been dreaming of a guy named Jack Elliot for as long as she can remember. While her childhood dreams were fairly harmless ones, her adult dreams are of graphic, carnal sorts. A business trip in Ohio sees her taking a detour to a place called Schoenbrunn where she knocks her head and wakes up in 1776. Jack turns out to be a Revolutionary army captain and his dreams of Puwai have kept his sane throughout the war. The question now is whether these two can have a happy ending in a time when a relationship between Native American woman and a White guy is frowned upon. The sex scenes are pretty spicy although I must confess that I am hoping for some variety. All those dominant alpha males are losing their shine when they are all I get in romantic erotica. There is a little too much sex in this novella at the expense of a credible story and romance but at least Ms Black tries to tell a story instead of slapping together some sex scenes barely linked together by a flimsy excuse of a plot.
Ellora’s Cavemen: Tales from the Temple IV is a much better anthology in terms of variety and storyline. I wish there is more variety to the mechanics and dynamics of the love scenes, though, because the whole quivering submissive miss and the dominant arrogant alpha male thing is overused to the point of overkill. Still, this anthology is a welcome rebound from the wretched previous entry into the series. It doesn’t offer anything new to the saturated romantic erotica subgenre but it also doesn’t offend the sensibilities either. If there aren’t so many of the same things floating in the market in longer formats out there, this anthology won’t come off as tired and played-out as it does right now.