Saturday, September 11, 2010

ANTHOLOGY REVIEW: "Hot Spell"

Colour me surprised, disappointed, and a little disgusted: I originally got this book for one reason: to read Meljean Brook's "Falling for Anthony," a prequel of sorts to Demon Angel only with more Colin. And I thought, "Hey, I haven't read any of these other authors. This could be a good paranormal romance anthology."

Except it wasn't paranormal romance. It turned out to be paranormal erotic romance, something from which I've usually keep my distance, and for good reason. I, personally, do not like erotic romance, for the same reason I don't like reading horror. That's not the type of experience I'm looking for when I read, so if it works, I'm uncomfortable, and if it doesn't, I'm bored. So it's usually lose-lose for me. Each of these stories came packed with extremely graphic sex scenes that, with a few exceptions, were boring and pointless, gross and pointless, or both - and (for the most part) love comes in at the very end, almost like a tacked-on afterthought.

In fact, all four stories share these same traits:
  • The hero is a paranormal creature
  • The heroine is a human
  • The heroine is a virgin
  • More often than not, the heroine has to be rescued. Repeatedly.

I wish there had been a little more warning in the cover or the cover blurb. Yes, it says it the novellas are "scorching" - but a lot of romance blurbs use that language even if the love scenes are vague. I can tell you honestly that if I'd known this was an erotic anthology I would have picked it up from the library, only read Meljean Brook's story, and given it back. I'm officially sick to death of reading about "convulsing tissues," "diamond hard nipples," the exact number of veins on a paranormal dude's penis, and various unpleasant vagina terms brought to us today by the letters P and C. But since I pushed and skimmed my way through it, I might as well review it, eh?

"The Countess's Pleasure," by Emma Holly
The Chick:
Georgiana DuBarry, Countess of Ware. Exploring the exotic city of Bhamjran, she wants to experience something she's never had - sex.
The Rub: A gorgeous indentured demon could be just the thing, but what if she feels more for him?
Dream Casting: Kate Winslet.

The Dude: Iyan Efebre. A Yama, or demon, he performs sexy dances to pay off a debt. When a foreigner offers him an enormous sum for a night of pleasure - well hey, two birds, one stone!
The Rub: Normally emotionless, he grows to care for Georgiana more than he'd expected.
Dream Casting: Aidan Turner.

The Plot:

Georgiana: I need sex, but I don't know where to get it.

Iyan: *sexy dance*

Georgiana: Are you open for business?

Georgiana and Iyan: *SexyTimes*

Iyan: That was nice. We should get married.

Georgiana: Oh good. BTW, I found out a way to get you out of your debt. Pretty easily, in fact.

Iyan: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Virgin Widow

1 Sex Demon

1 Bowl Job (Yes, I spelled that correctly!)

1 Conveniently-Solved Kidnapping

The Word: Honestly, this is one of the better stories in the anthology, thanks in large part to the gorgeous world building and writing. In a fantasy world that mirrors the Victorian-ruled India, our prim and proper widow heroine is exploring a foreign land in search of pleasure - and discretion. Her deceased husband was impotent, as it turns out, and while she's determined to experience what she missed, she also wants to keep her husband's secret.

She finds what she's looking for when she witnesses a performance of a Yama, or demon, who puts on an erotic show for hordes of worshipful female audiences. Her heart in her throat, she propositions him afterward.

The Yama, a lower-class demon named Iyan, isn't a whore. He has to perform in order to work off a debt incurred when a high-class Yama's daughter vanished while under his mother's care. However, he's attracted to Georgiana, and the money could put a huge dent in his debt, so he accepts. Over the course of two days, they discover they have a lovely rapport.

Holly does a wonderful job explaining the existence of Yama in the human world that's actually quite interesting and doesn't rely on infodumps. It was intriguing to experience things from Iyan's perspective - the Yama are normally very reserved, like Vulcans, only sexier. They can also feed off of human emotion, especially during sex.

So with good worldbuilding, writing, and description, what's missing? Um - a legitimate conflict. Everything goes pretty smoothly for Georgiana and Iyan, and there isn't really anything keeping them apart except for a debt that is quickly, almost off-handedly, solved. To be fair, in this story the sex scenes aren't totally bad, because they are a part of the plot, but the plot itself was boring. Worse, I couldn't see how the love suddenly cropped up. The characters only know each other for a handful of days and don't interact much beyond sex, so I never bought the romantic aspect. B-.

"The Breed Next Door," by Lora Leigh
The Chick: Lyra Mason. Her next door neighbour is just so annoying!
The Rub: Her next door neighbour is also just so sexy! What's a feisty, independent virgin to do?
Dream Casting: Ginnifer Goodwin.

The Dude: Tarek Jordan. When he catches an assailant trying to break into Lyra's house, he suspects it's a villain who's out to get him.
The Rub: Protecting Lyra is like trying to speak reasonably to a three-year-old. A sexy three-year old.
Dream Casting: A younger Gerard Butler.

The Plot:

Tarek: I'm a secret killer with lion genes who knows how to protect you.

Lyra: NO! I am a STRONG, INDEPENDENT WOMAN. I don't need to listen to no MAN.

Tarek: No, seriously, someone is trying to kill you --

Lyra: I'm losing Strong Independent Woman Points even listening to a MAN.

Tarek: Hey, if you shut up I'll show you the barb on my penis.

Lyra: The who on the what now?

Tarek: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

3 Overprotective Brothers

1 Weeping Vagina

1 Surprise! Penis Barb

1 SoulMate Romance

The Word: "The Breed Next Door" is easily the worst story in the whole collection. Nonsensical story, nonsensical world building, little to no plot, gross and purply-described unnecessary sex scenes, and an idiot heroine.

Our hero, Tarek, is a Breed - a human-lion hybrid who was created and trained to kill by an eeeeeevil Genetics Council. Human governments eventually freed the Breeds and scattered the Council into exile and Tarek's secret mission is to hunt and assassinate those few Trainers (Council stooges) who still exist and perpetrate eeeeevil in hiding.

While doing so, he lives undercover in the suburbs and mutilates his pretty neighbour Lyra's rosebushes for no reason and lusts after her homemade bread and coffee. That is, until he prevents a creepy military-trained assassin from breaking into her house. He suspects the Trainer he's currently tracking has marked Lyra for death. For some reason.

That reason, ladies and gentlemen, is never explained. The plot is a paper-thin excuse to get the hero and heroine together, despite the heroine's valiant attempts to drive the hero away by acting as irrationally as possible. Yes, dear readers, she's one of those heroines, who has to have things Her Way, because "she can take care of herself," despite making idiot decisions like leaving her house unaccompanied in her nightgown right after her home was broken into by an assailant who got away. Honey, refusing to take an expert's advice isn't "strong and independent" - it's ignorant and childish.

Even worse are were the horrendous, pornographic, gratuitous and astoundingly disturbing sex scenes. Not only do we get copious descriptions of the heroine's "weeping vagina" - which in the real world would either be the result of a very nasty yeast infection or the name of a little-known southern swamp flower - but the hero is surprised to discover that his lion-hood is more anatomically-correct than he thought. He discovers his penis is actually barbed, so that it hooks him and the heroine in place like a Chinese fingertrap during sex. That's just - no. No no no. Never again. Pardon me while I go and gouge out my mental eyes with a fork.

Now, all of this is terrible, but what really gets me is the patently ridiculous worldbuilding of the Breeds. I was a sci-fi and fantasy reader before I was a romance reader, and my biggest pet peeves in paranormal romance are fantastical or sci-fi elements that make no sense except to further the romance.

Such happens here, when Tarek's tongue starts tasting like red hots and his buddy tells him it's releasing a spicy aphrodisiac because he's found his mate for life, and that kissing her will make them eternally, endlessly horny for each other until the end of time.

Are. YOU. KIDDING ME?! Lora Leigh manages to squeeze a Soul Mate romance where none should exist?

You're telling me that when "the spice flows," one kiss and Lyra's gonna wanna ride his sandworm for life? This goes completely against everything Leigh's established about Breeds. Breeds were created by the eeeeeevil Council solely to work as soldiers and assassins. They were specifically raised in a sterile, scientific, unloving environment. They were bred artificially. And you're somehow telling me that these eeeeeeevil brilliant geneticists who designed every aspect of the Breeds decided to intentionally design them to release Happy Sex Drugs when they met The One? There's so much narratively wrong with this, I have to start a list:
  1. HOW could these eeeeeevil scientists program the physical body to recognize The One based on emotional and spiritual cues to release Happy Sex Drugs when such a phenomenon doesn't exist anywhere in nature, and certainly not with lions?
  2. WHAT purpose does making your Eeeeeeevil Genetically Altered Killers produce Happy Sex Drugs accomplish? If anything, it would weaken the stability of your Eeeeeevil Genetically Altered Killers if they were always distracted by thoughts of spicy cinnamon-flavoured sex with their mates.
  3. WHY would Eeeeeevil Scientists who only want to create murderous tools program them to mate and be eternally horny for life? You only want tools, and it's clearly established at the start of the story that the Council's breeding is wholly artificial. As previously stated, it's not like something like this could occur by accident, since spicy-sex-tongues don't just happen in nature.
If the Breeds were a magical, paranormal creation, I could have bought the Soul Mate crap. But when you make it a science-fictional concept involving genetic engineering, the Soul Mate thing is impossible and makes NO SENSE. It's also clear that, at least in this story, it's a paltry plot device meant to explain how the characters manage to fall in love despite a lack of chemistry or romantic build up. D

"Falling for Anthony," by Meljean Brook
The Chick: Emily Ames-Beaumont. After her selfish, bitter actions drove most of her family away, she's determined to cure her mysteriously-ailing brother Colin, one of the last family members she has left - even as it looks like he's turning into a vampire.
The Rub: Help arrives, incredibly awkwardly, in the form of Anthony - the man she insulted and lost her virginity with, who supposedly died eight months before.Dream Casting: Rosamund Pike.

The Dude: Anthony Ramsdell. When he's killed on the battlefield by a nosferatu, he gets a chance to become an immortal Guardian and protect humankind, so long as he gives up everything about his human life.
The Rub: Thanks to that same nosferatu, he's able to see and protect Emily once again, but eventually he'll have to give her up and continue to be Guardian - right?Dream Casting: Cillian Murphy.

The Plot:
Anthony: I have a crush on Emily!

Emily: I have self-destructive Daddy Issues!

Anthony and Emily: *unpleasant SexyTimes*

Anthony: *dies in war*

Emily: Crap. Now I have guilt.

Anthony: 'S'okay! I was Guardianized!

Emily: Want to help me vanquish evil with a giant angelic sword?

Anthony: Hell yeah! And look - a Guardian loophole! *de-Guardianized*

Emily: HOORAY!
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Set of Daddy Issues

3 Hot Winged Dudes

1 Unpleasant Deflowering

The Word: Just when I thought all hope was lost for this being even a remotely entertaining anthology, Meljean Brook's story comes along. Hooray! Yes, while it has the same basic story elements as the previous (graphic sex, virgin heroine, paranormal hero), it actually uses them as part of the story in an entertaining and original way.

It's 1811 England, and Anthony, the lower-class friend of the aristocratic Ames-Beaumont siblings Colin and Emily, walks in on Emily having a Very Bad Day. Thanks to some heavy Daddy Issues, Emily decides to shame her father by losing her virginity to Anthony, and won't take no for an answer. It's an extremely unpleasant and sorrowful scene, since Anthony has had a tendre for Emily for years and Emily's too full of bitterness and self-absorption to give a damn about his feelings.

Anthony promises to himself to offer for Emily to repair her reputation once he gets back from serving as a physician on the Peninsula, but he doesn't get that chance - he's attacked by a nosferatu (a bald, hairless sort of vampire), although he doesn't die. Instead, he's rescued by Michael, leader of the Guardians. The Guardians are a group of former humans gifted with immortality and angelic powers in order to protect humanity, and Michael transforms Anthony into a Guardian to help them with their work.

Cut to eight months later. Emily is a far different, more mature, and yet sadder woman, now. Her attempts to get back at Daddy by taking lovers and prostitutes (!) were rendered pointless when her father, older brother and sister-in-law were killed in a tragic housefire, leaving her the guardian of her young nephew. Even worse, her twin brother Colin now suffers from a strange illness that requires him to be chained to the bedpost at night to keep him from attacking people and draining their blood. Now that her family's been reduced to two (and one of those two is dying), Emily bitterly regrets her thoughtless revenge schemes, particularly her callous treatment of Anthony.

Anthony, meanwhile, is still a Trainee Guardian when Michael summons him and his mentor, Hugh (from Demon Angel!), to inform Anthony that he's to be put on the field early. It seems that the same nosferatu who attacked him, discovered that his friends the Ames-Beaumonts are in possession of an antique sword that is actually an angelic weapon capable of killing demons, angels, and nosferatu alike. The creep is willing to go to any lengths to obtain it, so Anthony's job is to both protect Emily and Colin, and retrieve the sword before it falls into the wrong hands.

Good storytelling saves the day! I really enjoyed learning more about Colin and the Guardians, although I suspect people who've read Demon Angel first might understand "Falling for Anthony" more than those who are Brook first-timers. Brook really knows how to pace and time the revelations of information. Emily's irrational and almost cruel actions at the start of the novel grow more and more understandable as more about her past is revealed, making the emotional payoff that much more rewarding. And, despite Anthony being a Guardian, he's still the lone Beta hero in this anthology, and it's very sweet to watch his gentle wooing of Emily.

What I didn't like? Well, sometimes the plot trips itself up a couple of times - in certain parts, we learn about things secondhand when we should have been shown them. Also, yeah, near the end of the story the sex scenes don't really have to be there and in that much detail. Otherwise, though, "Falling for Anthony" is a breath of fresh air. B+

"The Blood Kiss," by Shiloh Walker
The Chick:
Julianna Capiet. As the trueblood human daughter of a vampire, the only future she has to look forward to is as a broodmare for her father's bloodline.
The Rub: Helping the werewolf king Roman is a good way to get back at her dad, but the dude also wants to kidnap her. What's up with that?
Dream Casting: Liv Tyler.

The Dude: Roman Montgomery. As the wolfking, it's his job to rescue his hotheaded younger brother from the evil vampire king's clutches - but hey, he's still got plenty of time to shag a hot lady now and then.
The Rub: But what if said hot lady is the daughter of the vampire king? Awkward.
Dream Casting: Simon Baker.

The Plot:

Roman: Grrrr! I hate vamps! Let's go piss off some vamps! Gosh you're pretty.

Julianna: I'm the daughter of a vamp.

Roman: D'oh. I love vamps! Let's kidnap a vamp!

Julianna: Oh, for the love of --

Julianna's Evil Dad: First one to nail my daughter gets first dibs!

Roman: I have a solution!

Roman and Julianna: *SexyTimes*

Julianna: How dare you have sex with me to protect me instead of holding true to an unrealistic and irrational romantic ideal! I guess I have to be mad at you now because it's almost the end of the story!

Roman: Oh, for the love of --

Julianna: Okay, snit fit done. Let's get married!

Roman: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Alpha Male

1 Jackass Sibling

1 Very Bad Parent

1 Sexual Equivalent of Calling Shotgun

The Word: Hope you got a deep ol' whiff of fresh air back with Meljean Brook's story, because it's back to staleness with Shiloh Walker's, which is a shame, because she's great in person and I was looking forward to reading her stuff.

Unlike "The Breed Next Door," there's nothing heinously wrong with the worldbuilding. It's just bland. Big Giant Wolfclan doesn't like the Big Giant Vampire Group. Boo hoo. Roman, who's the current Wolfking of the Big Giant Wolfclan, is pissed because the Big Giant Vampire Group, the Capiets, has arrested his teenage brother for the crime of farting around on bloodsucker territory and they plan to hold him in prison for a couple of decades.

Roman's thirst for asskicking is briefly interrupted when he sees a pretty young woman on the street, and this comes back to haunt him when he crashes the leader of the Big Giant Vampire Group's party and discovers the pretty young thing who made his little wolf stand up and howl is none other than the Big Giant Vampire Leader's human daughter, Julianna.

Julianna's not a big fan of her Dear Ol' Dad, however, since he's mainly concerned with his plans to use her to push out as many vampire babies as possible, so when Roman turns up she helps him rescue his brother without a lot of fuss. In return, he kidnaps her in order to get back at the vamps.

Again, nothing heinously wrong, but there's not a whole lot there that's original, except for sex scenes that happen way too fast, a hero who's a shade too domineering to be very attractive, love that (AGAIN) occurs instantaneously and for no reason, and a heroine who throws a selfish personal snitfit for no reason while people outside are being killed.

Also - let's go over the names again. Roman. Julianna. The Montgomeries. The Capiets. Have you got it yet? Yup. Hey, if Shakespeare's turning in his grave you can just stake him. Frankly, I preferred that story the first time in Underworld - when all the vampires wore leather, Bill Nighy was a badass, Michael Sheen had an epic beard and Kate Beckinsale saved adorable Scott Speedman's ass.
C+
So what did I get out of this anthology? Not a lot other than an intolerance for Pointless Sex Scenes and too much information on how Lions Do It. There was only one story where I ultimately bought the romance as being True Love, rather than just lust, and that was Meljean Brook's. The other stories were just the type of romances I hate - where it's screw and screw and screw and somehow love pops up. I'm actually angry at this point - 3/4 of it were a complete and utter waste of my time. And to be honest, the anger at discovering a book was not what it was advertised contributed to the grade.

Meljean Brook's story: B+

The Anthology as a Whole: C-

9 comments:

  1. HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HA HA HA re: all of this.

    My captcha is 'fackbac.' This book appears to have a serious case of said fackbac.

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  2. I like Jo Goodman although I haven't read either of these two - and I probably won't. Even with the good grade for Tempting Torment, the plot sounds a bit overdone for my tastes - maybe it's just that it was written in 1989 - I might have gone for it back then but not now! I get what you're saying about rape, incest, etc in Jo Goodman books. Like you, I don't want to read about it per se - - but I do like an angsty tortured read and it doesn't push my personal hot buttons to read about a heroine who overcomes abuse and a hero who helps her (or, indeed, vice versa - Outlander anyone?). I can certainly understand that others don't like to read that sort of storyline, but as long as it is not glorifying or celebrating abusive behaviour then, generally, I'm okay with it. I really liked the Compass Club books.

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  3. I will never forget the day I read a Lora Leigh Breed story. It was in another anthology (The Magical Christmas Cat) and it was horrible. *shudders*

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  4. Vorkosigrrl9:21 AM

    Totally agree on the erotica. Not my thing.

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  5. Your review had me in stiches. I loved it, though I feel bad that you had to read the book.

    Since I'm not familiar with the authors I would have never guessed this book was an erotica. They should really print something on it to avoid confusion.

    My captcha is "defeck." Looks like something that fits. Naughty blogger website.

    And what kind of title is "The Magical Christmas Cat?" lol

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  6. Anonymous8:25 PM

    I think you put your finger on just why I don't like erotic romance, which I had never entirely figured out.

    I also never noticed that immense huge hole in the Breeds mythology. [blush]

    Also, made me laugh out loud twice.

    So, excellent work all around. :-) -- willaful

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  7. Heike M.8:45 AM

    Oh, I do love your reviews! Coming out of lurkdom to tell you I kept laughing and nodding in agreement -- happens with most of the reviews you write....

    I had the same "never-again-experience" with the Lora Leigh short story Ana mentions, in The Magical Christmas Cat -- though the one you read for this review sounds even worse...

    I just discovered Meljean Brook in the anthology Burning Up, IMHO her's was the only good story in that one, I even re-read it twice. Great worldbuilding. I originally bought Burning Up for Nalini Singh's story and ended hating that story with a passion. Still want to rant about it. Well, not this time and place...

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  8. ha! How do you know the Breeds mythology if you don't read erotic romance?

    I liked Emma Holly's story, couldn't understand Meljean's, and felt meh about the others. I enjoy erotic stuff and don't mind a barbed penis but I need a solid story to go with it, heh.

    Your breakdowns crack me up.

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  9. Bowl Job! You are too LOL.

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