Harlequin, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-83574-4
Contemporary Erotica, 2003
In this anthology, the stories are connected by a flimsy thread. In a wedding planner showroom, there’s a book called Sexcapades for Harlequin Blaze-style heroes and heroines to learn and understand more bad plot contrivances to torment readers out there. Three people decide to use this manual to be hot and sexy. These three stories are standard Harlequin Blaze stupid formula rehashes. Since Vicki Lewis Thompson and Carly Phillips are now Kelly Ripa’s favorite bestest authors ever, my only guess is that they must somehow need new shoes this badly to risk their newfound brush with credibility. As for Janelle Denison, well, I guess everybody can use new shoes now and then.
Janelle Denison’s His Every Fantasy. Leah Burton has always had the thing for her brother’s best friend Jace Rutledge since forever. Gee, now that is one plot I haven’t read before. Jace, of course, hears Young Girl by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap in his mind whenever he looks at his friend’s sister’s hot tight bum. Leah, like they always do, is seriously considering accepting the proposal of a very boring boyfriend and then asks Jace to teach her what turns a man on. Gee, I wonder what turns a man on. Must be tough, because men are really that complicated when it comes to sex. They have a one-week fling and then, predictably, decides to extend their infidelity contract from one week to a lifetime. Predictable, utterly contrived, and juvenile, His Every Fantasy sets the perfect mood for the rest of the party.
Carly Phillips. She may be a bestselling hardcover author now, but she still cranks out books as if the Contrivance Plot Factory is going out of business unless she single-handedly keeps it afloat. Going All the Way stabs me from my gut all the way up to my pituitary gland thanks to a really use-free Southern belle doormat Regan Phillips deciding to break an unwanted engagement by acting like a coked-up Harlequin Blaze woman around Sam Daniels. In the wedding planner’s office. Before her enraged guy, who predictably breaks off the engagement, much to Regan’s joy. Now, she can be her own woman again! (Personally, I would suggest she move away from her parents first, but hey, that’s just me.) Her first step towards independence is to sleep with Sam, and then later she marries him after which she will spend the rest of her life doing cute things like signing checks to charities while her husband pays for all the pretty stuff that she, being the independent, intelligent, modest, and successful feminist babe that she is, really doesn’t need or want, oh no. Worst story of the bunch, period.
Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Illicit Dreams is like a Pulitzer prizewinner compared to the other two invitations to aneurysm. Here, Lindsay Scott, a wild Jenny around the Block type trying to be a bit more mellow, decides to indulge her handsome neighbor Hunter Jordan on a rebound fling after he breaks it off with his swimsuit model girlfriend. Lindsay’s motivations for pity-fucking Hunter arise from her listening to the sounds of Hunter and Swimsuit Dolly going at it next door. Say what you want about the little voyeuristic element of this story, but at least Lindsay and Hunter come off as normal characters treating sex as something fun and enjoyable. As a result, their romance – or what little of it – rings more convincingly than that in the other two stories. This one doesn’t treat sex like some oddity or a responsibility and the main characters don’t do outlandishly bizarre and stupid things just to have sex. While far from being original, Illicit Dreams is easily the best of the three.
Which isn’t saying much, to be honest. This anthology is merely another example of how the romance genre and the erotic wildside don’t actually go very well together. Or rather, maybe it’s just good stories and the Harlequin Blaze formula being incompatible with each other. Whatever it is, Invitations to Seduction isn’t even worth the RSVP.