Private Places by Robin Schone, Claudia Dain, Allyson James and Shiloh Walker
The Particulars: Historical erotic romance anthology, Berkley, 2008, In Print
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I'm fairly certain I got this at a SoCal Bloggers Lunch / Book Swap (back when we used to read print we'd have these epic book swaps - I gotta say I kinda miss them!) Anyway, I like anthologies because it's a good way to try new-to-me authors without investing a lot of time and energy and this was historical erotic romance so I snagged it.
Review: The anthology kicks off with The Decidedly Devilish Duke by Allyson James and it didn't go well. Amelia Lockwood is a widow who is at the mercy of her dead husband's heir for her care and well-being. Naturally he's been stingy with her allowance and naturally it's because he wants to debauch her. She goes to his estate to confront him, he challenges her to a game of cards (you win you get your allowance, I win you do every debauched thing I can think of...) and she accepts because she knows she can trounce him. Of course it doesn't enter her bubble head that a guy like this would cheat. Anyway, Michael Beaulieu (a Duke, because of course he is) witnesses the exchange and manipulates Amelia's late husband's cousin (or whatever he is) to let him play the game in his stead. Michael and Amelia once had "a thing" before she threw him over for her late husband and he took off to more exotic locales.
Yes, exotic. It's rumored that Michael spent time in the Middle East (Turkey is specifically mentioned), that he had his own harem, and naturally he's spent an inordinate amount of time outdoors so he's all bronzed and "exotic" looking. Yes, the word "exotic" is used a few times over the course of the story. So yeah, none of this is good. But making it worse is that Michael is the kind of hero who literally says to the heroine, "It doesn’t work that way. I might not be able to stop until too late. A wise woman would leave now.” Does the heroine pick up the slack? No, she does not. Because even though she's a dang widow, the sex with her husband was of the "lay back and think of England" variety. Because of course she should still be "innocent" so Michael, he of the harem rumors, can "teach" her. Shoot. Me. Now.
No. No, no, nopity, no, no. I really disliked this story.
Grade = D-
On to the next story which is A Night at the Theater by Claudia Dain, a clever idea for a story that suffered mightily on execution. Two courtesans go to the theater. Sophia is beautiful, experienced, and knows how to protect herself. Zoe is young, desperate and looking for a protector. But as the evening unfolds, the drama happening in the audience is more riveting than the play happening on the stage.
Ugh. So basically the author tries to sell readers on the fact that Zoe and the man she ensnares is this great love match even though he's married and she becomes his mistress. But it's OK because his wife ends up dying and they live happily ever after in the end. Sophia seeks revenge on a guy she thinks is a jerk (he is) and uses that revenge as a means to finally bag herself a husband. None of this is helped by the fact that every blessedly character talks in circles to the point where I wanted to stab my eyes out. Clever plot idea populated with characters I wanted to run over with a team of stallions.
Grade = D-
So yeah, this is not going well. Next up is Hunter's Mercy by Shiloh Walker and Praise Jeebus! Write this down, the paranormal story is the one that saves this anthology from being a complete waste of my energy.
Jack Callahan is coming home after fighting in the Revolutionary War to keep a promise to his BFF, who died in battle. The promise is, of course, to look after his BFF's little sister, Mercy. Mercy was a tomboy and tag-along, and unlike her brother, has no idea Jack is a shapeshifter. Jack is also a Hunter, which means he basically disposes of feral shapeshifters. He happens across a pair of red coats who fit that bill accosting a slight young man. Except it turns out the young man is Mercy in disguise. Ever since her husband was brutally murdered by "monsters" she taken to becoming an amateur hunter - being able to shoot and track thanks to all those years tagging along with her brother and Jack. And she's gotten good - because she manages to wing Jack with a silver bullet.
The conflict in this story is good. There's a past between Mercy and Jack, Mercy LOVED her husband, has this amazing amount of guilt over his death because of a Big Secret, and she has NO CLUE that Jack is "a monster." Walker isn't a historical writer by trade, but she does an OK job with the colonial setting and she populates the story with likable secondary characters. This didn't wow me (the ending is rather abrupt), but I'm also not a big paranormal reader, so the fact that I liked it says quite a bit (in my opinion).
Grade = B
As incredible as this is going to sound, I've never actually read Robin Schone before. Her story, The Men and Women's Club, was eye-opening. It's also part of a series, which made it kind of a mixed bag because I do feel like I "missed" some stuff being completely unfamiliar with the previous book in the series.
Joseph Manning is a professor and Ardelle Dennison the first female publicist for the London Museum. They are also members of The Men and Women's Club, which Joseph founded for inquiring adults to discuss their desires and intimate secrets. Something happens in the previous book and there's a trial coming up, leading Joseph and Ardelle to a confrontation. Ardelle is complicated, a bit standoffish, some say cold, and two years previously she divested Joseph of his virginity. It's been two years, he's been celibate since, and practically burning for her.
This whole story is basically one giant trigger warning, so I'm going to include spoilers. Ardelle is career-driven and ambitious, and she's the first female publicist in the history of the London Museum. To get this plum job? Yeah, sexual harassment. It's also later revealed that her father sexually abused her (no penetration and clothes stayed on, but yes it was abuse) and her mother basically made Ardelle feel dirty for her husband's vile behavior. So yeah, Ardelle has issues.
But Schone doesn't spare Joseph who also has his own dark secrets involving boarding school (because of course he does). Basically Joseph likes a bit of pain with his pleasure. There's also some mild humiliation going on between Ardelle and Joseph that they both get off on.
Look, I'm making this sound really unsavory - and it is. But Schone writes with a maturity that's hard to ignore. She also writes the most challenging story in this anthology and part of the reason I've always been drawn to erotic writing in general is because I like to be challenged. I like it when authors explore societal mores and norms, challenge those mores and norms, and in turn challenge the reader. Is this story one I would recommend? Lord, I don't know. But there's a captivating quality to it that I cannot deny. I'm going to ding this one mostly because it doesn't stand-alone (at all) - but it had that deer in the headlights effect on me, so that's a win.
Grade = C+
This was a completely mixed bag for me, most of it falling on the not-good end of the spectrum. Howver, the Walker story was engaging and the Schone story reminded me that, more often than that, when erotic romance works for me it's written by someone with that Old School joie de vivre.
Overall Grade = C