Secrets Vol. 9, an anthology

>> Wednesday, April 19, 2006

book coverI have to send a great big thank you to author Stephanie Vaughan for sending me the Secrets Vol. 9 anthology (great author, and I'm not just saying it because she sent me the book *g* Her Crossing the Line was one of my top 10 2005 reads last year. If you want to give gay romance a try, that one and Jumping the Fence are the place to start). A-hem. Anyway, she knows I'm a big fan of another e-book author, Lisa Marie Rice, so she offered to send me this anthology, which has one short story by her.

Rice is the only one of the four authors that I've already read, so I was also looking forward to trying the other three.

The anthology doesn't start well. The first story, Wild for You, is by Kathryn Anne Dubois.

When college intern, Georgie, gets lost and captured by a wildman of the Congo, she soon discovers this terrifying specimen of male virility has never seen a woman. The research possibilities are endless! Until he shows her he has research ideas of his own.
My feelings about this 70-page story would look a bit like a low hill if plotted out as a graph.

The beginning, as pea-brained college intern Georgie gets lost in the Congo jungles and captured by a modern-day Tarzan (white guy, of course, and one who shaves and washes with soap and shampoo, even though he's been lost in the jungle so long that he's lost his ability to speak), was silly and irritating as hell. Plus, the writing style felt flat. There's quite a lot of action in the first couple of pages, but Dubois basically writes "this happened, and then this happened, and then this", so there's just no excitement at all there.

As the story advanced, however, I found myself liking it a bit more. Mark's total fascination with Georgie (he hasn't seen a woman since he was a little kid) was cute, and some of the love scenes were kind of fun. Low on characterization, so they were not as hot as they could have been if we'd actually known these people, but fun, all the same.

But then, when Georgie goes back to her camp and Mark is captured and then returned to civilization, my enjoyment suddenly plunged. That part of the story totally and completely sucked. The worst (though not the only awful) part was that we get to see Mark making up for lost time and having loads of sex with the native girls of the tribe, and then with Georgie's fellow interns, all while Georgie looks on. Was I supposed to enjoy reading that? Was I supposed to find the scene where the uncle of one of the girls spanked and butt-fucked his niece after finding her and Mark exchanging oral favours (all while Georgie watched on a mirror), erotic? Blech. And that imbecile Georgie simply thinks oh, was she supposed to blame Mark just for being a man? Er, yes? How about blaming him and cutting off his balls? My grade for the story: a D-.

The second story was much, much better. Steph told me she'd liked Wanted, by Kimberly Dean even better than the LMR story, and it was a good one.

FBI Special Agent Jeff Reno wants Danielle Carver. There’s her body, brains—and that charge of treason on her head. Unable to clear her name, Dani goes on the run, but the sexy Fed is hot on her trail. What will he do once he catches her? And why is the idea so tempting?
Wanted starts right in the middle of the action (which I tend to like, in short stories): Danielle Carver is on the run, after being framed for treason, and FBI agent Jeff Reno is close behind. As the story starts, they've been in touch via email and instant messaging (Danielle is an expert in this kind of thing, so she doesn't need to worry about being traced this way), and have already began to develop a relationship that way. Even when they're not together, the sexual tension is high, and (best of all) a sense of them actually caring for each other shines through. And when Reno manages to catch up with his prey, oh, wow!

So Reno's behaviour was extremely unprofessional and should have got his ass fired? I didn't care. So some of the computer / IM stuff seemed to suggest some confusion in the author's mind about certain things? Details, details! The chemistry and romance were strong enough that the story was a success for me. A B.

Then came Secluded, by Lisa Marie Rice, the story I originally wanted this anthology for.

Nicholas Lee had to claw his way to the top. His wealth and power come with a price—his enemies will kill anyone he loves. When Isabelle Summerby steals his heart, Nicholas secludes her in his underground palace to live a lifetime of desire in only a few days.
Nicholas Lee has managed to climb up from extreme poverty to extreme wealth, but the process made him some very scary enemies, and he's become a man who's as lonely as he's rich. When he discover's Isabelle Summerby's book program on TV, he falls in love at first sight, and he plots and manouvers until he gets close to her. But his enemies are near, and Nicholas doesn't dare to have a real relationship with Isabelle, for fear they might kill her to get at him. His solution? They'll have a hot affair for ten days, and then go their own way. Nicholas knows it won't be enough, but feels it will at least be better than nothing.

I very much enjoyed this one, and I'm pretty sure anyone who usually likes this author's books will enjoy it as much as I did. The hero, especially, is vintage LMR: an total alpha whose alphaness manifests not in domineering asshole behaviour but in protectiveness and a complete focus on the heroine. Even Nicholas's stalker-like actions struck me as sweet and romantic, not as scary and screwed up. Oh, and the plot was cool, especially how Isabelle saves the day in the end, after which we get a really nice epilogue. A B.

The last story is Flights of Fantasy, by Bonnie Hamre, a story that's a bit different from the others.

Chloe has taught others to see the realities of life but she’s never shared the intimate world of her sensual yearnings. Given the chance, will she be woman enough to fulfill her most secret erotic fantasy? Join her as she ventures into her Flights of Fantasy…
The reason why I say Flights of Fantasy is different is that it's erotica, while the other stories are merely very hot romance. Photojournalist Chloe is ordered by her boss to accept an invitation to a kind of vacation cruise and recharge her batteries. But when she gets to the yacht, it's all a bit weird. She's welcomed aboard by the organizer, the mysterious Yancy, a millionaire who tells her he knows her from college, and her last two boyfriends are passengers on the cruise as well. And it seems the whole cruise is set up around the idea of fulfilling its passengers' fantasies...

I didn't much like this one, though it didn't offend me, like the first story did. It just felt sort of flat. Chloe's sexual adventures lacked heat (even though they were adventurous... including a scene in which she fulfills her fantasy of having sex with three men at the same time), and the romance was really, really meh. Objectively, Yancy's actions were as stalker-like as Nicholas' from Secluded, but in this story they felt creepy to me. My grade: a C, with extra points given because it's the heroine who gets to have have lots and lots of sex with different people.

On the whole, even though I give it a C+, I liked the whole anthology better than I did Vol. 6, the only other Secrets anthology I've read. Yes, if you look at the grade, Vol. 6 got a B-, but that's just because it contained an absolute gem that was the MaryJanice Davidson story. Thing is, that volume had a kind of theme of domination, which is something that doesn't usually do anything for me, and this just wasn't present here.

Oh, and after her story here, I'm going to check out more by Kimberly Dean. Any fans here who can recommend other books by her? I think I have an ebook of Fever, but that's it.


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