Sweet Wishes Hot Dishes
by Anne Leland, Emery LaRue, Linda White-Francis, Tamara James, Bridghid Parkinson, and Mae Powers; romantic erotica (2006)
Midnight Showcase, $4.00, ISSN 1555-5496 Vol. 06-14

Sweet Wishes Hot Dishes is a romantic erotica with the stories revolving around food. However, there is no imaginative adaptation of food, much less kitchen appliances, in the course of bedroom hanky-panky in these stories. Perhaps that is the biggest problem with this anthology: a rather startling lack of imagination of the parts of the contributing authors in capitalizing on the theme of the anthology. Come on, romantic erotica authors, we are talking about food here. Not even a banana in this case? How disappointing.

Anne Leland kicks off the anthology with Seven Courses Of Sin. Jake walked on his wife Tia the first instance when the going gets tough in their marriage. Well, after spending six weeks ohm-ing and doing other New Age hippie dipstick thingies in the Grand Canyon, he's back hoping for a second chance. You'd think he'll at least buy a bunch of flowers for the occasion but no, he just shows up at La Mesa, the restaurant his wife has been running in his absence, and leers at her and makes her wonder what the heck he is doing in the restaurant. Fortunately for the dumbass Jake, the author is on his side. Contrived problems upon contrived problems hit poor Tia as she tries to get the restaurant in shape for the arrival of a food critic and naturally Jake is the only one that can solve her problems. He then whips out his baguette and the next thing I know, these two are happily married again.

Now, I know this is a short story and there is not much room for character and plot development, but this is only a reason not to use a complicated premise like a troubled marriage in a short story rather than a reason for me to completely overlook the fact that this particular short story has just insulted my intelligence in at least seven different ways even before the last page. Come on, Ms Leland, we're all looking for romantic stories here. Jake doesn't spend a single cent on flowers or even a freaking "I'm sorry" card in order to get back his wife. I don't know about anyone else, but there is really something wrong with the picture when all it takes for a wife to forgive that man who bailed out on her is him whipping out the big old Mr Happy after saving her from her incompetence. We woman have firemen and policemen to bail us out of our problems, we don't need deadbeat husbands!

Emery LaRue is next with Croele Temptations, which is also the name of Timothy Mathis' new Chicago restaurant. When new waitress Jessica Merrill walks in, that's when love's about to be on the menu.

This story is a collision of stereotypes but Ms LaRue does her best to twist the stereotypes a little by injecting a little of her own take on these characters. For Tim, his ex-wife is a bitch so he's not sure about trusting women again. To give him credit, he's trying to remember that not all women are the same and he's also trying to be fair to Jessie. Jessie is the typical "No! I'm not pretty! No! I won't believe you!" stereotype but at the same time she possesses admirable awareness when it comes to the need for Tim to accept that she's not his ex-wife before they can ever have a happily-ever-after. She doesn't let herself be lumped along with other crazy women out there. The ex-wife Megan is the only caricature here: she's a complete whackjob.

Strangely enough, for a story in a romantic erotica anthology, the sex scene is so brief that I could have missed it if I blinked. Nonetheless, Ms LaRue manages to develop her characters and their emotions adequately enough to make this story feel complete with a credible romance to boot.

Linda White-Francis is next with Vacation For Desire. By right, this story could have been decent. Teri Blanchester is quite insecure about her ability to feel pleasure when it comes to sex because her ex-boyfriends can never please her in bed. However, when she books a vacation to Cancun, she finds herself thinking too much about the pleasant and friendly travel agent, David Brewster, whose gregarious nature makes her feel so much better over the phone. When she meets him in person, she realizes that he's 32 and therefore about ten years or so younger than she is. Oh no, what will she do now?

Actually, the age difference doesn't seem to be as big an issue in this story as Teri's own personality is. I have known women like Teri in real life who would happily let themselves be trapped in unhappy relationships just because they feel that they are getting too old and therefore any man will have to do for them, but you won't see me asking for stories featuring these women. Teri is a very frustrating character to follow because she is too passive and too comfortable in remaining unhappy and miserable. Every positive move she makes in this story is the result of constant prodding, scolding, and bullying from the people around her. The most frustrating thing is, Teri has plenty of self-awareness about her problems and her inertia, but she just doesn't do anything on her own to overcome these problems.

Also, Ms White-Francis does too much telling instead of showing in this story. Too much of everything is spelled out to the reader to the point that nothing is left for interpretation by the reader. As a result, the story feels like the unpolished work by an amateur writer.

Tamara James' Recipe For Seduction is very problematic because it revolves around misassumptions as well as the characters' contrived ability to talk and sort things out. Detective James O'Donnal decides that he hates Zara because he saw her dancing one time with a drug lord that had nearly killed him so yes, she's definitely that drug lord's girlfriend so it's OH MY GOD HATEHATEHATE time. Well, he did get a hard knock in the head, I suppose. Anyway, when he conveniently learns the truth in a conversation with a colleague about who the drug lord is, he decides to be noble and persuade Zara with his manly penis to love him and not that drug lord. After all, you know how powerful the penis is. It can change the world and save us all from despair and destruction! Zara is a pretty smart lady who gives James the scolding he deserves but it is annoying how one waggle of that Mighty Penis and she's all putty in his, er, hands. James is such a twit and he just has to be a detective as well, how nice. This is one story where sex solves every problem in a relationship. Now that I'm done with the story, excuse me while I try to locate my intelligence. It has run away from me because there is only so much insult it can take in one story.

Bridghid Parkinson's Check It Off The List has Kayla Garrison throwing a barbecue-cum-housewarming party. Her colleague Trevor invites his friend Gary Montrose to come along. Gary and Kayla hit it off and their amusing courtship takes place over online messengers until they finally meet again and decide to get wild with the chocolate sauce. Alas, the chocolate sauce thing isn't described, which, like I've said earlier, is yet another example of how the authors in this anthology fail to create something memorable out of the food theme. This story is pretty cute in that the author manages to capture some of the more amusing and awkward moments at the start of the relationship of two people attracted to each other and wanting to find ways to ask the other to hit the sack without coming off as too forward. There is nothing deep about the characters or the plot, just two attractive people hitting the sack after a few dates. Whether they will end up together in the long run, I don't know and to be honest, I don't really care. What you see is what you get here. It's great though that Kayla could have been a stereotypical weird nerd with her initial desire to let down her hair and party (she works with computers) but instead she turns out to be a refreshingly normal person with sense of humor and all.

And finally, Mae Powers' His Own Taste, where a silly woman named Serena decides to toy with two colleagues who have been trying to get into her pants for a long time by inviting them to join her for dinner. Unknown to each men, she's invited both of them to show up at the same time and same place. Perhaps it's poetic justice when Jorden and Brock show up and decide that they're actually more into guys - or more accurately, into each other - and head off for their own private nookie session instead. Like the previous story, this one is pretty superficial: just two cute guys meeting up and then reenacting a popular (and overused) interracial gay theme. This story is amusing at places and I like how the two men realize that their competitiveness in the workplace and in their social life is just a mask for their Top Gun-like homoerotic sexual tension. The resulting manlove scene is pretty hot for its short length.

While I have a pleasant time with three of the six stories here, Sweet Wishes Hot Dishes is overall a pretty unimaginative collection of stories especially considering the theme of the anthology. None of the stories stand out in a memorable way. In keeping with the food theme, let me say that this anthology could use more sizzle and even more spice. Also, when someone says, "Let's make an erotic anthology revolving around food!" and nobody even thinks of introducing a stray banana or gherkin or whatever, I think it's time we confiscate the erotic romance card from a few authors who really should know better.

Rating: 64

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