by Suzanne Forster, Maggie Shayne, Lori Foster, and Kimberly Randell; contemporary (2000)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-12725-6

The common thread of this anthology is four clueless women who have no idea they are drop dead sexy and these women have a thing for erotica or lingerie. Recommended in small doses - a chapter a day - if you, like me, gag at the notion of shy, timid, frigid modern women over 25 who can't get a date to save their lives being wooed by hunky men and act as if they are being lobotomized instead. In summary, Lori Foster and Kimberly Randell turn up pleasantly readable novellas, Suzanne Forster's novella has a great hero but an ice glacier of a heroine, and Maggie Shayne's contribution reads like How To Write Bad Category Romances 101 for Novices. All four are very predictable stories, however, and I don't feel my $6.99 is well-spent on this anthology.

Suzanne Forster's Unbuttoning Emmalina (great title!) has the drop dead gorgeous hunk and millionaire Jeff Winston pitted against Victoriana Lady-wannabe Emmalina Price over her land. Emmalina Price runs a small boutique store that sells Victorian lace and tablecloths and other things that only members of the Jane Austen Appreciation Society would approve. Oh, and Emmalina hoards Victorian erotica too.

Jake is fun, but Emmalina is too well a Victorian lady - she never loosen up until the last two sentences in the novella. I can't help thinking Jake would need a crowbar to unbutton Emmalina's million buttons (and let's not forget the corset). She's painful to read, this Emmalina, spoiling all the trouble Jake went through to make this a potentially great read. Nobody is more at home in a meat icebox that Emmalina Price.

Lori Foster's Tangled Images has yet another Winston hunk, Mack, wooing a shy, timid woman, this time an older former photography-school classmate Jessica. Jessica is supposed to take snapshots of Mack modelling lingerie, but the silly woman acts as if she's forced to undergo brain surgery. Instead of choosing the most revealing undies for Mack, she trembles, scowls, shivers, pouts, and make me wish I can cobble her head with the rolling pin. Thanks to Jess, I can't get to read about Mack in thongs or G-strings or other flimsy undies. How disappointing.

Mack is a great hero, but Jess' token baggage (single mom with bad ex - another one of those) spoils the fun. TI is decent, but let's face it - Jess never put Mack in any revealing - really - revealing or challenging situations. She is no match for Mack either verbally or emotionally, hence rendering the novella unsteamy and unworthy of its predecessors. It's autopilot reading - a man seducing a woman who can't keep up. Not very fun.

Sinderella by Kimberly Randell is fun, if somewhat predictable. Tomboy Frankie wants to get her itch for Connor, her brother's friend, out of the way, so she dresses up as Lady Sinderella, popular lingerie mascot, in a masquerade and has a one-night-stand with him. She disappears the morning after, he chases her, boink boink boink, wedding, the end. It's another one of those I Love Him But I Can't Tell Him So I Bend Over Backwards In Convoluted Disguises To Get Into His Undies stories. I don't know why Frankie doesn't just grab that man by the throat and French kiss him, but at least Frankie is almost a match for Connor's virility. And in this anthology, the otherwise average Sinderella stands out as the best story.

Maggie Shayne's story is Leather And Lace and it's the most boring one of the lot. Not only is the heroine painful to read, the whole story reads like a mishmash of everything hokey and lousy about category romances. Heroine with great body (but no self esteem thanks to a lousy cheating ex) models lingerie for best buddy (not for money, of course, for modern women can't actually show their bodies for any crass reasons like - eeuw - money) meets the nasty ex who sees her in a new... light... after the lingerie show. I have no idea why a woman would want to sleep with her ex just to show him she's desirable and he's wrong. The fact that the man actually sees her in a "new way" after she models those 36DD cups never actually convinces me of this playboy's reformation (his crass opinion on a model's promiscuity and easiness will haunt him for the rest of this novella). Experienced readers would see the so-called plot twists light years ahead. Worse, this novella isn't too kind in its depiction of models and women who wear and make lingerie.

At the end of the day, for a supposedly daring anthology about women letting it all down, the book only drives home a message straight out of the Victorian times: Good girls don't and can't flaunt their bodies or sexuality. Be repressed and nurture low self-esteem of your self-worth and attractiveness to the opposite sex, and have fun waiting for the Right Man to show you how to be the Woman you are supposed to be.

Bah humbug.

Rating: 52

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