by Nina Bangs, Lisa Cach, Thea Devine, and Penelope Neri; contemporary (2000)
Leisure, $5.50, ISBN 0-8439-4667-9
Chocolate and romance - sounds like a heavenly combination, doesn't it? I'm still not sure how chocolate functions as an aphrodisiac though, since watching someone eat chocolates can be an rather unpleasant sight (especially if I'm not having any myself), and I certainly will kill anyone who dares interrupt me and my chocolates in our bonding hour, even if it's a horny Pierce Brosnan. Uhm... let me rethink the latter.
Anyway, this anthology is a mixed bag. Two good, two so-so, but all in all, they all leave me hungry for chocolate.
Nina Bangs's Sweet Sin pairs two business buddies, Ann Hawkins and Matt Davis. Both share a history of a quickie session at the backseat of Matt's car long, long ago, memorable only because it is an episode of embarrassing ineptness on his part. Now they're all grown-up, and Matt wants a second go at the backseat thing. So he volunteers to sit in when Ann sculpts a life-sized naked man chocolate figurine.
I'm not sure how these people are going to eat a naked chocolate man, especially one with an impressive - to quote a zany secondary character - Arc de Triomphe. Still, the chemistry between Matt and Ann can melt chocolates, and yes, the Arc de Triomphe is pretty triomphe, aye-yai-yai. Ann's whiny persona almost bogs things down at places, but all is forgiven when the Eiffel Tower rears high and mighty. Fun.
Lisa Cach's novella is Eliza's Gateau. I love chocolate gateaus, but the story leaves a lot to be desired, particularly because the author seems to be writing as if she has a full-length romance in mind instead of a novella. Sparks fly when shy and mousy Eliza eats Sebastian's chocolates on a train by accident - please get your mind out of the gutter, I mean chocolate chocolates, thankyouverymuch! - but really, the pace plods. So much time and pages are spent in introspection that the relationship seems only half-way baked when the novella ends. Maybe if the author has tightened her prose and quickened the pace a little to suit the novella format, this story might have been more fun. As it is, it's pretty boring.
Then comes Thea Devine, who really cooks up a Meltdown. No explicit scenes, no naughty acts with chocolates, alas, but ooh, the chemistry, the sexual chemistry! Donna Cavalero may be an organized, commitment-shy event organizer, but when she gets Matt Greer as a client, sparks and clothes fly across the room like no tomorrow. Okay, maybe not clothes, as Donna skirts around like a timid deer while Matt stalks and prowls around her hungrily.
But somehow Donna's usually annoying women-popmag personality isn't as annoying as it would've been. She doesn't come off as playing hard-to-get or just plain bimbodelic, instead it is really enjoyable to see how Matt seduces her day by day until she just can't fight it anymore.
There may be more to Thea Devine than italicized ohmyGods and silly, psychotic villains, if this novella is anything to go by. She can actually do comedy and keep the sexual heat to boiling point while keeping the characters' clothes on. Will this intriguing side of Thea Devine please stand out more often?
Finally, Penelope Neri closes the anthology with her boring Seducing Sydnee, a really direly predictable tale of a neurotic Miss No called Sydnee being chased around a cocoa estate by Cord Westridge. Sydnee is irritating - this is one woman who just wouldn't stop complaining. When she is sent to sunny Costa Rica during winter, she complains (studying chocolate production is so beneath her abilities!). When she loses her prim and proper undies and has to wear sexy ones, she whines that she looks like a no-class stripper, ooh the pain. When Cord expresses his intention to have her befriend his Cordie Junior better, she protests - hello, men are, like, untrustworthy brutes who only want That Thing?
Instead of pushing her off and finding someone who appreciates a sexy Latino like him, Cord indulges Sydnee, letting her rant and whine and complain and generally have a miserable time. Oh well, if he's happy. Me, I'm off to buy me some chocolate slices.
Thea Devine and Nina Bangs have contributed novellas that I really, really enjoyed. Hence, while I won't exactly consider this anthology keeper material, overall, I'd give it a rating of 80. Now where are my giant M&M bags?
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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