Secrets Volume 12
by Saskia Walker, Jess Michaels, Leigh Wyndfield, and Dominique Sinclair; romantic erotica (2005)
Red Sage Publishing, $12.99, ISBN 0-9754516-2-6
Secrets Volume 12 starts out very terribly with a horrible, horrible short story by Dominique Sinclair but fortunately, things pick up so that by the last page, this anthology seems to be in halfway decent shape. That's not to say that the stories in them are particularly good - the editors really should start raising their bar because if this is the kind of stories they are cramming into their franchise nowadays, one of the pioneer brand names in romantic erotica is in danger of becoming as irrelevant as, say, Brava. Is this because the increasing acceptance of romantic erotica by mainstream and independent publishers means a smaller submittance pool for the Secrets anthologies?
Dominique Sinclair's Good Girl Gone Bad is what happens when good romantic erotica stories turn putrid. Reagan Malone is a virgin, which is okay, but she has to be one of those braindead frigid virgins with bizarre hang-ups about men and sex, only to be stuck with a writing assignment that involves sex. In real world, people don't ask blind men to fly jetplanes, but in romance novels, we have this kind of heroines running the show. She decides to head off to the bookstore to look up on sex stuff until she gets seduced in public by her niece's swimming instructor Luke Nelson, who of course offers to tutor Ms Braindead here on the finer ways of sex. Reagan is nothing more than a blank canvas when it comes to personality - she isn't a character as much as a blow-up doll to be used at will by Luke, being that she is stupid, spineless, and apparently incapable of coming up any sensible thought or decision of her own. Should women like Reagen be having sex and - heaven forbid - breeding more stupid into this world? I fear for the world at bleak moments like this, I tell you.
Jess Michael's historical short story Aphrodite's Passion has masturbation and a cult devoted to the worship of the Greek goddess of passion and love, but I have no idea how the end result is a story that makes me yawn. It is, however, what it is, sigh. Poor Selena Kelsey decides to run away to Cyprus when the stepchildren of her late husband decide to see her committed into a madhouse. Our hero Major Gavin Fletcher is hired by the charming stepchildren to find her and bring her back. He is given Selena's diary and photo, and he falls in love with her when he examines these. Catching her taking matters into her own hand, so to speak, only reaffirms the strength of his passion, if you get my drift. But the main characters are cardboard flat and frankly uninteresting while the bad guys are more ridiculous and cartoonish than menacing. I think I prefer this author when she's writing for Avon as Jenna Petersen.
Leigh Wyndfield's futuristic White Heat is too short in length to accommodate a story that needs to be longer in order to be more fully developed. Our heroine, Raine, is trapped on an icy planet, the sole survivor of a team that has been killed by some killer who is now aftering her as well. She encounters a captive, John Riddick, oops, Walker who is of course innocent. This is the best story of the bunch, but it is also noticeably in dire need of another hundred pages more at least for the story and the characters to really come together and make a hard impact on me. The characters are fine and their interactions are well-done without being ridiculous, but they still come off as woefully underwritten and the plot feels prematurely ended.
And finally, Saskia Walker closes the anthology with her contemporary story Summer Lightning which sees our zealous environmentalist hero Julian Keswick and our city gal heroine Sally Richards boinking while trying to reconcile the usual differences our judgmental Captain Planet wannabe twit hero will predictably bring up for his shagging an environmentally-unfriendly carbon monoxide-filled ozone-puncturing female. This could have been a pretty familiar and dull story in another anthology, but it ends up being a decent story in the context of this anthology. Yes, that's a backhanded compliment.
It used to be that readers can be introduced to authors like Angela Knight, MaryJanice Davidson, and Liz Maverick from this franchise. But if Secrets Volume 12 is anything to go by, readers may end up instead with a list of authors to avoid in the future. Come on, Red Sage Publishing folks, this situation will not do at all. Let's find some really decent stories to fill future anthologies instead of resorting to stories that do nothing much other that to rehash tepid and silly overused plot gimmicks in romantic erotica.
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