Midnight Pleasures
by Amanda Ashley, Maggie Shayne, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Ronda Thompson; paranormal (2003)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98762-5


Darkfest by Amanda Ashley is another supremely annoying little girl-child heroine story. Our blind and personality-free Innocent and Pure heroine Channa Leigh can only see when she is touching the Wizard of Darkfest when he's in wolf form. The hero is a three-hundred year old super supreme being that can control the weather and generally be a walking deus-ex-machina plot device. He has followed our heroine as she grew from a chubby little girl to a beauteous innocent babe that she is now. Ain't he lucky that we don't have pedophile busters in that fantasy world this story is set in. So now Darkfest wants Channa Leigh to grab his tail. Heh heh heh. Anyway, Darkfest is predictably the gloomy "I'm not worthy" type that spends his time moping about how Pure and Innocent Channa Leigh is too good for him, until she has to marry someone else and he finally snaps out of his pity party to push his rump against Channa Leigh's hand. Okay, I'm twelve, but dang it, I'll take what little amusement I can get from this paint-by-numbers child-bride heroine and miserable gloomdoom Daddy-hero story. I'd prefer to forget the scene where she is stroking the wolf's stomach and he feels aroused, because let's just say while I love doggies, I don't think I want to love doggies that much.

Sherrilyn Kenyon's Phantom Lover is much better than her recent Dark Hunter books. I think this author puts out her best works when she's not trying too hard to manufacture a series. Erin McDaniels always dreams of being attacked by creepy dragons and one night, a hero named V'Aidan steps in to save her. They make love in her dreams and now she's looking forward to dreaming some more, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, V'Aidan is one of the Oneroi, a child of Morpheus (the Greek God, not that Matrix guy), that protect mortals from bad dreams. By the way, can someone tell me why a Greek fellow comes to be called V'Aidan? V'Aidan is forbidden to come in contact with mortals, alas, so there are consequences to face.

The resolution is predictable and the heroine is essentially a damsel-in-distress. Still, this is a decent read if only because the mythology is interesting, the hero's name notwithstanding.

Maggie Shayne's Under Her Spell has our Wiccan heroine Melissa St Cloud (an obvious Mary Sue for Maggie Shayne) coming to the set of an unnamed TV series (which, from description, sounds like Beastmaster mated with Hercules minus one hundred points of IQ). She's going to serve as the consultant on witchcraft matters as this TV show comes under fire by the Wiccan community for wrongful portrayal of witchcraft. The producer/creator Alexander Quinn falls for her, but soon they learn that his family closet has a lot of skeletons in it and Great Evil will soon threaten our lovebirds' happiness.

It seems a little unrealistic that Melissa will demand that the show follow her instructions to a tee even if it means increasing production costs and that nobody fires her for it. Nonetheless, the whole Great Evil subplot is very compelling and even creepy at times and I have a great time reading this novella. The author's rants about the portrayal of Wiccas on TV and her lengthy details on Wiccan ceremonies are interesting but they often come close to taking over the story though. Maybe a little less soapbox would be better the next time around.

Ronda Thompson's A Wulf's Curse starts off on really shaky ground but improves tremendously later on. This novella is a historical. Elise Collins runs away from her uncle to join a circus troupe and falls for the animal trainer Sterling Wulf. These two start out truly irritating when they begin bickering like children. However, as Elise integrates herself into circus life, she and Sterling stop acting like children and their relationship takes on a more poignant tone when it is revealed that there is a curse on the Wulfs that can doom their relationship. This curse will lead to our heroine finally acting like an adult and the drama that arise from the curse is simultaneously touching and heartbreaking. The bittersweet ending seals it for me: A Wulf's Curse is easily the best novella of the bunch and it should have been a longer novel.

In summary, the anthology starts out awful and becomes better with each novella that comes after. All four stories are too short to be fully memorable, but other than Ms Ashley's paean to pedo-porn romance, the remaining three stories are very readable. While this anthology is obviously tailor-made as an advertisement for St Martin's author Sherrilyn Kenyon to fans of Maggie Shayne and Amanda Ashley, hopefully Ronda Thompson will get enough new fans to spur her into writing better stories than what she is currently delivering for Leisure. She's the only one that tries to go some extra mile with her characters here.

Rating: 73


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