by Portia Da Costa, contemporary (2007, 2002 reissue)
Black Lace Books, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-352-33614-9
Hotbed is pure unadulterated erotica. I know the cover says "an erotic romance" at the bottom but this is clearly a marketing gimmick by the publisher to get readers of erotic romances to pick this book up. Mind you, this story has incest, a cross-dressing hero, and plenty of partner-swapping between the main players in this story so this is not something you should read if you don't like these elements in your stories. With all the kinky stuff going on here, I'm going to come off as really nitpicky should I point out the only thing I cannot stand about this story is the ridiculously annoying and terminally dumb heroine Natalie Croft. But really, I cannot stand Natalie. That is a big hurdle for me to overcome in order to enjoy this book, I'm afraid, because that dumb cow is on pretty much every other page, squealing and moaning until I feel like taking a cattle prod to that cow.
Natalie has been humiliated when her now ex-boyfriend sided with her ex-employer over her so our intrepid reporter decides to make some kind of point about her non-existent talent by getting a scoop on the dirty politician Whitelaw Daumery. She also takes up residence at her half-sister Patti's place in the town of Redwych. She is still on the train to Redwych when she's already having a happy little choo-choo fun of her own with one incongruously-named Steven Small in the toilet. She subsequently finds Patti much changed from her previous self when Patti turns out to be sleeping with several guys which include "Stella Fontayne", the cross-dressing owner of the club where she works. Before long Natalie is also doing the bop with "Stella". Then there is Alex Hendry, the reporter who accepts kickbacks from "Stella" in order to write things that are "approved" by Stella, if you know what I mean. In other words, "Stella" pretty much runs the whole town in some manner that is never fully detailed in this story.
It is most annoying that every thing Natalie does, right up to her final decision about Whitelaw Daumery, is orchestrated by "Stella". Natalie gets the scoop, but that's only because "Stella" asks Alex to pass information to Natalie. This woman is utterly useless in this story apart from being the favorite meat pincushion for Steven, Alex, and "Stella". She is pretty much passed around among the other players in this story because that's all she is good for, I'm afraid. She is also really stupid as she is the last person to suspect who "Stella" really is. Natalie's middle names must be "Dumb Cow Who Is Always The Last To Know".
It gets even worse when throughout the entire story Natalie is behaving like a stereotypical frigid Brighid. After every sex scene she's in, she will fly into a tizzy as she goes, oh no, she can't believe she did that so oh, she will never do it again. But after all that painful flailing and Catholic guilt, of course she'll do it again and again. And after she's done it again, she'll repeat the post-shag drama. I find it really tedious to follow her boring "Eee, I'd had sex again! Oh no, he forced me into it! I can't believe I enjoyed it too! Never again, ai-yai-yai!" drama. She ruins way too many sex scenes in this book because an inevitable and painful self-flagellation session is sure to follow every shag scene that Natalie is involved in.
This story has most of the whole nine yards in the repertoire, what with male-male scenes, female-female scenes, and male-female scenes being covered here. There is also incest, with Patti abruptly revealing that she's had the hots for Natalie, but I find that one a little too unbelievable as it comes out of nowhere. Come to think of it, I have a hard time buying the same-sex shag scenes in this story because they pop out of nowhere. For a long time the players involved in these scenes are involved with people of the opposite sex while rarely paying attention to people of their own sex so their abruptly introduced same-sex shag scenes feel like something inserted just because the author feels that she needs to have scenes of this nature in the story. Nonetheless, those scenes are pretty fine, especially the one where "Stella" decides to force Alex to submit to him whether Alex likes it or not. I also could have liked that scene where Natalie beats up Steven's rear end more if Natalie isn't too much of a hysterical dim-witted human pincushion for randy penises to be taken even a little seriously.
That's my problem with Hotbed in a nutshell: any possibility of me enjoying this story is rendered impossible by the irritating heroine who is too often getting on my nerves.
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