Strangers in the Night, an anthology

>> Monday, March 12, 2007

I added the Strangers in the Night anthology to my TBR after hearing raves about the Pam Rosenthal story. I'd also been meaning to try Susan Johnson, so that was a plus.

We begin with Natural Attraction, by Susan Johnson, and it's a disappointing start.

To the fashionable world, Viscount Priestley is known for his utter lack of morals, his wicked wit, and his unfailing talent at seducing any woman who strikes his fancy-and then discarding her come morning. But the viscount has never met anyone like Nicky Wemyss. A woman who dresses as a man and immerses herself in science...who can eat and discourse with equal gusto...such a woman is more than an aphrodisiac-she is temptation itself. And the viscount makes it a habit never to resist temptation...
The reason I wanted to try one of Susan Johnson's books was because I'd heard a lot about how her heroes and heroines showed an unapologetical enjoyment of sex. Well, that is true; they do, and I did appreciate it, but it was't enough to compensate for shallow characters, a distasteful hero and absolutely no emotions.

I wished I could have liked Nicki better, because it seemed, on the surface, that she could be quite an interesting woman... a female scientist in 19th century Edinburgh, working on aerostatical balloons, and a woman who acknowledges and indulges her sexual appetites. However, by the end of the book, all I knew about her was that, to quote Jasper, "the grip on her vulva was sensational".

Jasper was even less interesting, a bored, jaded rake like a hundred bored, jaded rakes I've read before. His one distinguishing characteristic is a negative: IMO, he crossed the line between being a lusty guy who enjoys sex and being a lecher. He made me think "euww", not "yum".

With such shallow characters, it's not surprising that the sex wasn't particularly erotic. It was high on contortions and varied Kama Sutra positions, but low on feeling.

Eh, well, at least I learned what The Spinning Top is. A C- for this one.

Katherine O'Neal's Fool Me Once comes next, and from what I read in the back blurb, I was looking forward to the 1930s setting.

It's 1933, and Kate Frost is the most creative flim-flam artist in all of East London-until she meets her match in the ruthless, rakishly handsome Rhys. The seductive con man has a plan of his own: Under his careful tutelage, Kate will pose as a long-lost Aztec princess who will fool the world. But to become a goddess, she'll have to submit herself to his training completely, giving herself over to his every instruction, his every command, his every desire. But when two thieves fall prey to their own deceptions, there's no telling who is fooling whom...and who is no longer pretending at all...
I couldn't even finish it, so it was a DNF.

Things started badly when in the very first few pages, O'Neal pushed one of my hottest hot buttons. Please, please, authors, If you're going to set a story in Mexico, at least have someone who speaks Spanish well check your names. It's not hard! In fact, I hereby volunteer to do it for anyone who asks. That way you won't get stuck with Consuela instead of Consuelo (a common mistake, I guess), a surname as fake-sounding as Reyada (whatever silly story you try to concoct to explain it), a man with Ramirez as a first name and, the kicker, a guy named Monolito (monolith) instead of Manolito.

But ok, deep sigh, and keep reading. Then there was the whole con angle, which is not really my thing, but ok, like the thing with the names, if it had been just that, I'd just have grimaced and born it.

What really was the last drop was that Rhys was such a cruel asshole. The backstory was bad enough, with the way he blackmailed Kate into getting involved in his con and into his bed (the D/s tone there was really icky to me, too, but that's probably just a matter of taste), but I stopped reading after the scene in which he makes her believe he might feel a little something for her and then delights in showing her how it wasn't true at all, that he was conning her all the time. It might be that he gets his comeuppance later on in the story, but those 45 pages I read were more than enough for me.

And finally, what I was waiting for all along: A House East of Regent Street, by Pam Rosenthal

The war with Napoleon over, seaman Jack Merion has turned his attentions and his newfound prize money toward real estate, specifically a house east of Regent Street that was once a fashionable brothel. Such a house could provide a generous allowance in rent. But someone else wants to buy the house, too. Like Jack, the mysterious Miss Myles has come up in the world the hard way, and she knows how to get what she wants. To gain the property, she's willing to meet all of Jack's terms-with pleasure-and Jack may just get an investment he never expected...
And again, a disappointment. I do agree with those who said it was beautifully written, because Rosenthal's prose really is lovely, but that wasn't enough. AHEORS was a very uncomfortable mix of romance and erotica. It didn't work for me as a romance, and the sentimentalistic final twist (which I more or less saw coming... or rather, I thought of the possibility, and then thought no, she wouldn't dare do something so mawkish) didn't fit well with erotica.

I'm a prude, I guess. Most of the sex scenes made me go euwww, and not just the actual sex acts, but the whole prostitute / john vibe.
I intellectually appreciated that at least Rosenthal was trying something different, but in the one scene I was liking, the one in which there's a bit of a change in gender roles, the author chickened out. Still, I was leaning towards a C+, but that horrible, horrible ending sends my grade plunging down to a C-.

Too bad. I was expecting something much, much better, but this is a D.


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