by Diana Laurence, paranormal (2006)
Living Beyond Reality Press, $14.99, ISBN 0-9778722-4-6
While I have my doubts about the name of Diana Laurence's concept, Soulful Sex, which seems a little too corny for me, I love what the author is trying to do: she wants to write romantic erotic stories. This means no Catholic guilt, no tortured men exorcising their demons by having Hot Angry Sex, no martyr heroines having sex to save the world or members of their family, just people falling in love and having wonderful sex in the process. There are paranormal elements in some of the short stories in here, but there are not one mention of soulmates or any other euphemism for "Tarzan! Must! Have! Sex! Come! Jane! COME! NOW!" concepts common in romantic erotica.
This collection of short stories kick off with Pints, a short but very effective story about a woman falling in love with a vampire. This one manages to capture a rather credible and even moving romance, and I like especially the novelty of a vampire hero that doesn't spend a long time moping about not being worthy of love. This is a common theme repeated later in other paranormal-tinged short stories like Fantastic Toys, where a woman falls in love with the man next door who turns out to be more otherworldly in nature than she can ever suspect. Our paranormal heroes don't want to be human, they don't mope in the dark constantly, and they accept being what they are without resorting to Anne Rice-type melodramatics.
Then there is a contemporary short story with a touch of paranormal, like Real Magic which makes me feel like once more a silly woman that had a crush on David Copperfield before he turned too weird even for me especially during and after the Claudia Schiffer years. The more down-to-earth contemporary short stories are the outdoor romantic adventure that is Between Earth And Sky, the office spicy story Office Mating, and my favorite story in this collection, Je t'aime, Etienne, a story of a woman who has to travel and watch a hockey game featuring the popular French-Canadian hockey star that she had, more than decade ago, deflowered and even loved. Lucky her, Etienne has never forgotten the slightly older woman that was his first lover and he is eager, earnest even, to have them taking up from where they left to hopefully a happily ever after.
The remaining stories are either fantasy medievals that sometimes have a touch of paranormal elements to them (Abigail's Archer, The Dark Prince, and As Commonplace As Rain) and outright fantasy stories (the three stories, The Trio, The Infatuation, and One Hundred Women, that make up the author's Vernal Night trilogy).
All the stories are actually entertaining in their own right, with no real duds among them, and some are even tug at my heartstrings like Je t'aime, Etienne and Fantastic Toys. I like Pints especially how the story ends - it's quite open-ended but not too open-ended because it's clear that our heroine and her vampire beau are going to try to beat the odds to be together. What stands out in these stories is how Ms Laurence emphasizes the process of falling in love between her characters. The love scenes here aren't that kinky. I'd rate the love scenes around the vicinity of a R rating rather than a NC-17 rating. Nonetheless, these love scenes can be very sexy because they happen to two characters that are often than not clearly meant to be together.
Since these are short stories, the characters involved most of the time fall in love over a short period of time. However Ms Laurence often depicts the passion and the romance between the two characters in a melodramatic magnitude, with urgency and passion and rapid heartbeats and all, that she manages to convince me that it's love at first sight as much as it is lust as first sight for her characters. Even if it's unrealistic to assume that the main characters are in love after meeting in such a short while, Ms Laurence often attempts to at least portray her characters as falling in love by the time the story ends. Am I making sense here? An excellent example of this is Fantastic Toys: while one can argue that nobody can possibly fall in love in such a short time, the heroine and the hero are clearly at least starting to be in love by the time the story ends, hence their devotion to each other is as moving as their love story is fun to read.
I really like Soulful Sex: Erotic Tales Of Fantasy And Romance Volumes I & II and my only complain about it is that I wish some of the short stories I really like are longer. Readers looking for romantic sensual stories without overused gimmicks like destiny-ordained werewolf/vampire soulmates, mental angsts, and duty sex may want to give this book a try. It's always nice to see an author writing sensual love stories that emphasize heart and passion over familiar melodramatic paranormal erotic romance conventions - like secret agents, mate-obsessed werecreatures, and whiny telepathic soulmate-obsessed vampires where it's mostly plot and sex without much credible passion and romance developing between the main characters - especially when she's doing a good job at it.
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