A Whole Lotta Love
by Donna Hill, Brenda Jackson, Monica Jackson, and Francis Ray; contemporary (2004)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21090-5


A Whole Lotta Love is Signet's second contemporary romance anthology about the loves and lives of large women. The first anthology is last year's Living Large. While it is a much better anthology compared to Living Large thanks to better characterization and plots on the whole, none of the four stories are particularly memorable due to length constraints. But as anthologies go, it's not bad at all.

Donna Hill kicks off the show with Over The Rainbow, and for a while, I thought I am reading a Rochelle Alers story because Ms Hill is practising the "waste not, want not" philosophy when it comes to sprinkling glowing superlatives on her characters. Jessica Morgan is a large woman but she can do anything, she is beautiful, she glides like a ballerina, and she is a restaurant owner with loads of money. Her best male friend, Russell McDaniels, is just as glowing a human being: he's handsome, rich, gorgeous, has a body you can use to grate carrots on, and... wow. The unfortunate result of the characters being nothing more than a catalogue of perfection is the story taking on a dull luster.

Jessica nurses a secret crush on Russell. Why she can't just go grab that man and drag him into her bedroom, I have no idea. It may have to do with her insecurities about men not wanting a large women like her, although if you ask me, if Liza Minelli can get a husband, I don't see why a very rich, very beautiful, and very successful woman like Jessica can't. There can be far worse ways to look for love than to sleep with a kind and understanding wealthy and successful man, really. When Jessica allows Russell to persuade her to be the cover girl for the debut issue of Living Large International, that's when sparks finally fly.

There is no sense of urgency or conflict in this story, apart from the obligatory Hunk Chooses Fatty Over Twiggy scenario to complete the escapist fantasy. I find myself more preoccupied with wondering why every magazine catering to women need to have a woman on the cover. Won't it make sense to have hunks like Hugh Jackman draped near-naked over the newest Toshiba washing machine to sell zillions of copies of Cleo? You don't see Ron Jeremy posing with erect nipples on the cover of Stuff or any of the trashy men's magazines out there, do you?

Brenda Jackson's Tempting Fate is a more lively read. I find it refreshing that the heroine Justice Manning's insecurities come not from her large size but from her fear of commitment. Justice is the model for the plus-size lingerie line Tonya's Temptation (awfully unsexy name, I know). When the photographer pulls out due to family commitment, the owner Tonya Savoy asks her cousin Blake, a wildlife photographer, to take over the latest photoshoot for the new version of the company website. Blake agrees and promptly falls straight in lust when the voluptuous Justice starts posing in skimpy naughties on beds and other furniture.

Blake and Justice are a likeable couple and their sexual attraction are instantaneous. While it is fun while it lasts, Tempting Fate really suffers after the couple jump into bed. The last few pages of the novella fill like unnecessary padding and the pace begins to meander. Still, bonus points given for the hysterically funny use of the phrase "Justice had been served".

Monica Jackson's When Wishes Come True is fun too, although the author fails to fully develop the motivations of the heroine until too late in the story. Topaz Sinclair celebrates her thirtieth birthday with her sister and their two friends. She wishes for true love, and what do you know, into the restaurant walks her high school crush and first lover Ray Gaines. His cousin Jonnie, sorry, Jon Bynum is there though, but who cares about Jon? Ohmigod, it's Ray! Is Ray her true love? Poor Jon. He has been carrying a torch for Topaz for a long time, and seeing her again causes all those inconvenient feelings to rekindle anew. Can he and Topaz realize that they're meant to be?

I wish the author is a little bit more subtle in showing that Jon is the Mr Right. Ray is described as a man with a clammy hands and rather ironically (considering that this is an anthology about respecting and loving big-boned women), he is also described as "fatter" while Jon is the well-built guy that has just finished his surgical residency (read: $$$). But the more problematic aspect of this story is that the author doesn't quite succeed in telling me why Topaz and her friends will seriously believe that birthday wishes will come true. It is only during a few pages before the last does Topaz tell Jon why she believes whole-heartedly that her wish will come true. I spend most of my time wondering why a bunch of modern-day women that don't come off as particularly superstitious will believe so fervently in birthday wishes.

Still, I like Topaz and Jon even if they often make me want to shake some sense into them. Topaz and her friends are especially refreshing because they are quite open in admitting that a man's bank account is one of his more attractive traits. Not that they are scheming harlots if you are concerned about this kind of thing, they are just smart enough to know what to look for in an attractive mate, heh heh. The author's lively and sardonic sense of humor often carries the story valiantly to the finishing line, especially during its more uneven moments. I have an enjoyable time reading this story at the end of the day.

Francis Ray closes the anthology with The Wright Woman. Like most of her works, the story has a very trite premise but the author can sometimes deliver some good emotional payoff, and this is one such instance. Super rich dude Michael Dunbar believes that all women are mercenary sluts chasing after his money. When our large-sized heroine Stephanie Wright mistakes him for a project manager of his landscaping company, he decides not to disabuse her of that notion even as he makes the move on her. Steph falls like a rock in water but the smelly stuff will hit the ceiling when Michael's deception is revealed.

For the most part, The Wright Woman is a dull rehash of uninspired stereotypes. The judgmental hero, the very understanding and all-wise heroine that will prove to him that she's not a bitch like every woman out there, ugh. But the story takes a turn for the more interesting when Stephanie learns of Michael's deception and tells him off. I don't feel that she does enough though because two pages later she takes him back, but for that few pages when Stephanie is angry and giving it good to Michael who deserves everything she gives him and more, The Wright Woman is a delicious episode of a jerk receiving his comeuppance. Alas, too bad it's just a few pages of an overall dull and lacklustre story.

Some novellas are better than the others, some worse, and if I have to choose, I will say that Brenda Jackson's novella is the most interesting of the four. Still, all four stories are readable and they feature characters that are either very likeable or at the very least, they don't inspire me to think of painful ways in which they can meet their demise. While all four stories aren't exceptional, I find them adequate for a few hours of pleasant reading. As I've said earlier, as far as anthologies go, A Whole Lotta Love one of the decent ones out there.

Rating: 78


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