Secrets Volume 8
by Jeanie Cesarini, MaryJanice Davidson, Alice Gaines, and Liz Maverick; romantic erotica (2002)
Red Sage Publishing, $12.99, ISBN 0-9648942-8-9


Secrets Volume 8 has four more new short erotic romantic stories to offer readers from various published or aspiring authors. As is often the case, there are very good novellas or just plain forgettable ones with no inbetween. MaryJanice Davidson and Liz Maverick deliver superb TKOs while Alice Gaines and Jeanie Cesarini follow too closely romance novel conventions to score.

Jeanie Cesarini's Taming Kate is a bizarre dichotomy of sorts because it is an erotic story - or it intends to be, anyway - but it treats prostitution like some yard bake sale held by dotty happy people in Love, Nevada. Kathryn Roman inherits a "legal brothel" in Nevada when her old woman friend passes away. She decides to change the way things are run in Katia's Palace but the people of Love insist that Katia's Palace is a historic monument (many of the men lose their virginities there and they apparently love to keep in "friendly" tabs with the "princesses" there). They enlist cowboy Trey Holliday to seduce Kate and change her mind.

There is a paradoxical dichotomy here because Ms Cesarini depicts prostitution in some sanitized Pretty Woman manner where the princesses are adored and treated like town heroines. I'd expect a Red Sage short story with a prostitution theme to sell that fantasy, but the author instead shies away from depicting even anything sexual about the business. Everyone here endorses Katia's Palace like it's the new church and at the end of the day, Kate sees the light and continues running the business like a good madame would. After all, like Trey says, a "legal brothel" comes with respect. If Ms Cesarini knocks on my door trying to sell me that swampland in Nevada again, please tell her I'm away and won't be back until 2019.

MaryJanice Davidson continues her werewolf tales in Jared's Wolf. Those mmmmmm werewolves are back! Moira Wolfbauer is a half-werewolf who is feeling a little lonely. Jared Rocke is a human out to avenge his sister who was killed by a werewolf. He mistakes Moira for the werewolves' slave, tries to kidnap her only to end up having sex with her, and this mistaken identity isn't so bad as both try to use each other only to end up falling in love. "Love" is a stretch, perhaps, as these two people know each other for only a short time, but the sex is good (if too similar to the author's other love scenes in other works - I think we need a new position or two, Ms Davidson), the humor is there, and the sexual tension is crackling. As usual, Moira is smart and witty with a view on sex that is a far cry from the usual ignorant heroine variety, like the author's heroines tend to be. Jared is a yummy guy although at times he's probably a little unreal in that he can be too understanding about the existence of werewolves. His acceptance of the good werewolves like Moira into his life is a little too easy after all that he has been through.

I'm not sure about Jared forcing Moira to service him orally without any foreplay in that final intimate scene though. Is that supposed to say something about the relationship of those two? The "dominant macho male" theme that seems to permeate so many erotic short stories and it's getting monotonous. Jared's last moment "alpha male" dominance just feels gratuitous.

Alice Gaines should stop trying so hard to be like Robin Schone and yet never going all the way in doing so. My Champion, My Love could have been so good. Set in 1888, the mayor Robert Albright, at the request of a friend, visits the local mental institution to look into the case of Celeste Broder. Celeste's been accused of having "unhealthy" sexual appetites and her greedy stepchildren seize the opportunity to get rid of her this way. Robert has some sexual issues in that he is very well-endowed but this, um, gift only results in grief in his previous marriage and he is now very insecure where sex is concerned.

I like the fact that both characters are not young. But I am also very disappointed because Celeste isn't really plagued with unhealthy sexual appetites. That's right, she turns out to be another boring romance novel heroine stereotype: a woman whose insecurities stem from a lousy late husband and who really doesn't know a thing about sex and has to be taught by Robert. I thought Red Sage Publishing encourages envelopes to be pushed, so it's very disappointing to see Alice Gaines crippling her own story this way. What could have been something interesting, something thought-provoking perhaps, or an intriguing look into sexual norms of the late 19th century New York, is reduced to yet another familiar man-teaches-dingbat story. I'm not expecting Alice Gaines to be Edith Wharton, but I'm not into fake "bad girls" either.

Liz Maverick's Kiss Or Kill is a short futuristic story where military lady Camille Kazinsky meets an intriguing robot she calls Meat - a cute guy who soon proves that maybe machines can do some things better than humans. Except Meat isn't really completely mechanical and he has some ulterior motives in his stud service. I love how Ms Maverick manages to get Camille to show the vulnerable side of her without actually crippling Camille's strengths. This story is very short and no doubt I'm supposed to be focusing on the sex, but I'm more interested in the non-sexual aspects of this story, such as Camille's job or Meat's mission or the way things are in 2043. Toss those chick-lit aspirations (or at least put them on hold), Ms Maverick, write me a book set in this world!

With its 50-50 ratio of good-to-blah stories, Secrets Volume 8 is hardly an anthology I could honestly call a qualified success. But at the same time, the short story by MaryJanice Davidson is a rich chocolate eclair of a yummy goodness where wholesome good-natured down-and-dirty fun is concerned while Liz Maverick's story is interesting and boasts well-done characterization that only enhances the sex. (Seriously, where can I order my own Meat from? Is Mattel making some anytime soon?) It's like a Happy Meal Package where one has to buy the whole load just to get that cute toy one just has to have or die. Some people take a risk and buy the whole shebang, others steal, while many more choose to borrow. I guess I'll just leave it up to you on which course of action you'll decide to do.

Rating: 76


My Favorite Pages

This book at Amazon.com

This book at Amazon UK

Search for more reviews of works by these authors:

My Guestbook Return to Romance Novel Central Email