Book Review

Hot Spell Anthology

C-

Title: Hot Spell
Author: Emma Holly, Lora Leigh, Meljean Brook and Shiloh Walker
Publication Info: Berkley 2005
ISBN: 0425206157
Genre: Paranormal

If you’re curious about the various paranormal schticks that are popular right now in Romancelandia, Hot Spell offers a taste of some of the sub-genres. You have your SF/steampunk (Emma Holly’s “The Countess’s Pleasure”), your squicky uh-I-think-that-might-verge-on-bestiality human/animal chimera (“The Breed Next Door” by Lora Leigh), angels and demons (“Falling for Anthony” by Meljean Brook) and vampires and werewolves (“The Blood Kiss” by Shiloh Walker). Lots and lots of rampant inter-species lovin’, yo. *suppresses urge to make joke that invokes Barnyard Sluts Vol. IX* Unfortunately, the two decently entertaining stories in this anthology can’t make up for the one gawdawful story, or the other one which is pretty much just a snooze.

“The Countess’s Pleasure” by Emma Holly
Set in the same steampunk universe as The Demon’s Daughter, Georgianna DuBarry, formerly possessed of a Thoroughly Useless Cock (now more useless than ever ‘cause it’s, well, dead), goes to a stripshow in in Bhamjran, develops a case of the hots for the demon stripper, then hires him to pop her cherry. Along the way, we learn all sorts of nifty things, like how demon spray-on prophylactics work, and are treated to some truly superficial observations of the consequences of inter-species love in a highly-stratified society.

The shaggery in this story, it is hot, but GOOD GOD, people, did we really need yet another fucking (well, non-fucking, actually) virgin widow? To see a rule-breaker like Holly use a hoary cliché like that is exasperating. The love story itself is somewhat unconvincing, which may be an unavoidable consequence of an erotic romance novella. Most romance short stories have a hard time building a convincing relationship between the two protagonists, and in an erotic romance, where quite a bit of the real estate is taken up by fizznucking, the space for building a convincing emotional connection is even more limited. However, the story is fun despite its flaws, the sex is well-written and hot, and the characters, while giving the impression of being perfunctory sketches, are at least likable. I can honestly say, “At no point did I feel the urge to stab any of the protagonists in the face.” Sometimes, that’s about all you can ask for. This is high praise indeed when you read what I have to say about the next novella. Grade: B-

“The Breed Next Door” by Lora Leigh
Where do I start with this mess? The heroine, perhaps, who isn’t just painfully feisty, but pointlessly so. Or the hero, whose obsession with the heroine borders on creepy, and whose motivations in general seem just…ARGH. And the writing style. Egad. It’s not so much awkward as magnificently lurchy. And the sex? Hilarious, but much in the unintentional, over-the-top way MST3K movies tend to be.

What? You want a story synopsis, you say? OK, fine: genetically-engineered freak, Tarek (part lion, part man, possessor of a barbed cock) moves next door to Lyra, pain-in-the-ass extraordinaire. Excruciating attempts at romantic comedy ensue, before it segues into excruciating attempts at romantic suspense. To add insult to injury, the heroine is that marvel of modern romance novel engineering: a spunky, horny modern woman in her 20s who’s in possession of both her own house and her virginity, with no convincing reasons, moral, religious, or otherwise, given as to why she’s still hanging on to her cherry.

If this short story were a little old lady, I’d push it into oncoming traffic. Misses the Cassie Edwards Barrier (by which all F books are asessed) by an asshair. Grade: D-

“Falling for Anthony” by Meljean Brook
Caveat: I’ve met Meljean in real life, and I proof-read this short story during the latter stages of its publication process. Make of my comments and this grade what you will.

Set in Regency England, doctor and all-round nice boy Anthony Ramsdell deflowers his best friend’s younger sister, Emily Ames-Beaumont, shortly before departing for service in the army and amidst some angst. We shall not dwell on the reasons for this deflowering, for yea, they are indeed silly and spoiler-iffic. Suffice it to say: Could have been more convincing.

After a battle in Spain, Anthony is attacked by a thoroughly nasty piece of work known as a nosferatu, but before he dies dies, is given a choice to become a Guardian and help the forces of good beat back the night. Meanwhile, as Anthony learns to be a bad-ass warrior with wings, Emily is facing some interesting problems of her own back in Merry England: her brother seems to be falling ill and developing a rather interesting psychosis—one involving an unquenchable thirst for blood.

The world-building in this story is some of the best I’ve seen in Romancelandia. Unfortunately, this means that the love story took a backseat. In terms of characterization, Anthony is thoroughly likeable, but Emily needed to be smacked around with a choice bit of haddock a time or two. Plot-wise, this story blows all the others out of the water, and the horror elements are excellent; I shivered a little during some of the ooky bits, and I have a pretty strong stomach when it comes to this sort of thing. I just wish Brook had more space to develop the characters and romantic tension; this, plus some debut author clunkiness in the expository parts, make this story a C+.

“The Blood Kiss” by Shiloh Walker
This story isn’t bad, just kind of boring. It’s one of those “King of Werewolves marries Queen of Vampires” sorts of tales, and those who can’t get enough werewolves and vampires—well, here’s your chance to enjoy both in spades.

Roman Montgomery, wolf king of Wolfclan Montgomery, has to rescue one of his dumbass younger brothers from the House of Capiet, a powerful vampire clan that’s on the wane. During the rescue attempt, he meets and promptly falls in lust with Julianna, the daughter of the leader of the House of Capiet. Oh noes, can love doomed by all that “a plague o’ both your houses” baggage ever succeed? Bitch, please, this is romance novel, so you know that the answer isn’t just a “yes,” but a resounding “yes.” A somewhat bland story that offers few surprises. Grade: C-

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Robin says:

    I have had this anthology since it was release, but for the life of me, I can’t seem to get through it, in part because I haven’t yet made it through the Holly story, which is first.  After the disappointment of Holly’s Courting Midnight, I’ve really been feeling that she’s just pumping them out too quickly, because despite the magic of the first two upyr books and the first demon book, the follow-ups have, IMO,  been increasingly tepid.  The fact that her work is always likeable saves it to some degree, but it feels really burned out to me. 

    Maybe I’ll skip ahead and try the Brook story, which is the other one I was initially interested in.

  2. 2
    Victoria Dahl says:

    Listen. I need to hear about the barbed cock.  :bug:  You can’t just toss that out there and walk away, you cruel Bitch!

  3. 3
    Candy says:

    Robin: Yeah, I know what you mean. The hot sex and likeability of the Holly contribution was what saved it from C territory. If that’s bogging you down, skip to Meljean’s story. It’s flawed, but very, very interesting. I’d be interested to hear your reactions to the other 2 stories, too—I was kind of surprised at how much I disliked “The Breed Next Door,” especially the heroine.

    Victoria: if you didn’t know, cats have barbed cocks, possibly to stimulate ovulation (cats are induced ovulators, i.e. they don’t release eggs unless they’ve mated, which means that a litter of kittens can potentially have several different fathers). Tarek’s cock has a barb in the head that emerges when he comes, and Lyra just comes all over the place when it happens because of COURSE it stimulates some supah-sensitive spot in her giney that a normal cock cannot hope to reach, instead of, say, shoving squarely against the bladder or cervix or something like that.

    I wonder how that barb would feel when giving a blowjob? If Tarek is lucky, maybe Lyra’s gag reflex is as absent as her common sense?

  4. 4
    Victoria Dahl says:

    >>because of COURSE it stimulates some supah-sensitive spot in her giney that a normal cock cannot hope to reach, instead of, say, shoving squarely against the bladder or cervix or something like that. <

    <

    But it’s not sharp? I thought the cat-barb things were sharp?

    Yo, mutha-fucka, did you just stab me in the cervix? Huh-uh. That is SO not cool. But. . . if you could run a slide to check for chlamydia, that’d be great.

    Thanks for the lesson, Ms. Candy.

  5. 5
    Arethusa says:

    OMG@the Lora Leigh! My roommate bought some of her ebooks so she sent me one (EC people please don’t eat her, she only did this once)? It was scary! It was about some sort of…three couples…that lived together! And had sex with each other! But…I think…all the guys were brothers? And they could read each others minds? Or their wives’ minds? Maybe it was the women with the psychic abilities?

    I don’t remember! Because the squick factor got too much for me about 20 pages in and I deleted it. I call it “The White Trash Sexual Commune” book.

    So while I’m a fan of Holly and Walker I just spent a few hours in the bookstore to read both of their stories and then reshelved it.

    And I more or less agree with your take on their stories. Unlike Robin though I enjoyed Courting Midnight a lot, obviously riffing off the Austen Regency style without being imitative.

  6. 6
    Elaine says:

    I thought the Meljean story seemed like a bad condensation of what might have been a decent novel.  The Holly story was okay because it was her voice, and I was already familiar with the world.  High squick factor on the Lora Leigh with me as well, not because of the bestiality but because feisty never excuses TSTL for me.  I skipped much of Blood Kiss:  bland describes it very well.

  7. 7

    >>: a spunky, horny modern woman in her 20s who’s in possession of both her own house and her virginity, with no convincing reasons, moral, religious, or otherwise, given as to why this is so.<

    <

    This is why I love the SB’s. You catch the real structural errors in the story–what moral or religious reason could this woman have for having her own house in her 20’s? She buried her parents in the basement? She won the lottery? She’s the only survivor of a cult mass suicide? The mind boggles.

    >

    >If this short story were a little old lady, I’d push it into oncoming traffic.< <

    Which is why the SB’s should also be writing the cover blurbs.

  8. 8
    Suisan says:

    Blood Kiss alienated me before the stroy got going simply by virtue of the characters’ names.

    Roman Mongtgomery and Julianna Capiet? Wink wink, nudge nudge. Get It? Romeo and Juliet? Montague and Capulet? Uggghhhh. Forced myself to read it only to discover that Roman had to protect her from gang rape by, eh, forced seduction? Blecch.

    But I liked Falling for Anthony a whole lot more than you did—although it would have benefitted by being longer.

  9. 9
    Suisan says:

    *from being longer.

    Damn grammar.

  10. 10
    Candy says:

    Victoria: I have no idea how sharp or not-sharp a cat’s penis barb is. I do have a male cat, but you’ll have to forgive me if I balk at conducting any sort of empirical test.

    Ummm, any vets in the house capable of shedding light on this?

    My guess is, it can’t be too sharp, because it’d be counter-productive to tear up a female cat’s vaginal canal every time she had sex. Sharp enough to stimulate, but not sharp enough to fuck shit up.

    I FEEL VERY DIRTY TALKING ABOUT THIS.

    “…what moral or religious reason could this woman have for having her own house in her 20’s?”

    Haaa! OK, point taken, Darlene. Will amend sentence. My kingdom for an editor!

    (Though I can’t imagine an editor who’d want to take on my explosions-on-a-page ramblings I attempt to pass off as reviews.)

    Arethusa: My tolerance for group scenarios is pretty high. I just plain don’t like Leigh’s writing style, if this short story is any indication. And, well, the penisbarb thing just made me go GAHHHHH.

    Elaine: I do agree that there was way, way too much squished into “Falling for Anthony.”

    Suisan: Yes, I noticed the names, too, hence my “a plague o’ both your houses” quote.

  11. 11

    I wasn’t being critical, Candy, it tickled me that owning her own house was right up there with the hot-yet-still-a-virgin scenario.  I mean, how _does_ a 20 year old get her own house?  It’s every bit as bizarre as the other!

  12. 12
    Meljean says:

    Woot! I’ve been bitcherized!

    *He-Man: “I have the power!” dance*

    Squished and an urge to haddock-slap the heroine are what I’ve read most often in reviews (though not quite as entertainingly)—duly noted and improved upon (I hope.)

    Er, though when I think about the latest mss again, maybe not the squished part.

    Now off to link, and pull out all the good bits about how I made you shiver. Ah, yeah.

  13. 13
    Alison S says:

    Yes, it’s your local neighbourhood vet (local in the cybersense) delurking after Candy’s call. Tom cats don’t have a single barb on their penises, they have lots of little ones around the tip, a bit like one of those strange spiky fruits, dragon fruits or whatever (not as many spikes as a lychee). A bit like a horse-chestnut’s spikes. But obviously these spikes are made of penis, not horn or anything, so they don’t actually damage the female. And they aren’t big enough to be obviously visible to the casual naked eye. The spikes develop under the influence of testosterone, so if the cat’s neutered, they atrophy.

    What next? Do werewolves have bones in their penises, like dogs?

    What about wererams or werekangaroos? They’d have exciting penises… Shall I go on?!

  14. 14
    embi says:

    OK Alsion- give. Now we NEED to know about the reproductive organ weirdness of the animal kingdom. As soon as possible, please.

    Thanks ever so

  15. 15
    embi says:

    OOps.

    ALISON

    didn’t mean to change your name on you….

  16. 16

    Embi—there’s an entertaining book called How They Do It, by Robert A. Wallace, which is about what you’d think it is.  And yes, porcupines do do it carefully.

  17. 17

    Shall I go on?!

    Yes, please. Ever since childhood when I read the bit in “My Family and Other Animals” about snails’ love darts, I’ve been curious about this sort of thing. But the thought of examining photos gives me the squick for some reason, and I can only watch these bits on nature programs through my fingers because it feels too voyeuristic. Besides, David Attenborough is too polite to go into detail. Some good explanations from a vet would be just the ticket, ‘cos in this case, pictures are waaaayyy to much for me.

    Cross my heart I’m not perverted, it’s just that this sort of thing makes my brain fizz with delight at how weird and amazing the world is. And I think it’d be fun to bring this sort of stuff up when rowing with creationists.

  18. 18
    Victoria Dahl says:

    But obviously these spikes are made of penis

    This is, by far, my favorite sentence ever written. Hee!

  19. 19
    Theresa S. says:

    I’d also like to hear about exciting penises. Pretty please?

  20. 20
    Arethusa says:

    Oh Candy, I’m pretty tolerant of group scenarios as well, it was the fact that the three males involved were brothers. Or the women were sisters. There was a significant sibling mix in this group. Although yes, barbed cat penii rates higher on the Squick scale.

  21. 21
    Alison S says:

    OK, will post more fun penis facts later on, when children in bed!!

  22. 22
    bam says:

    fizznuck

    hee!

  23. 23
    Sandy says:

    PZ Myers’ blog (Pharyngula) has lots of penis entries, especially concerning squid and other cephalopods.  :-) Just google Pharyngula and penis.

    A friend told me some great stories about pigs and their corkscrewy penises, but I somehow doubt we’ll be seeing any were-boar books soon.

  24. 24
    Candy says:

    Arethusa: Oh yeah. I blew right by the sibling thing in your explanation. Holy crap on a crap cracker, MASSIVE squick factor.

    Alison: YOU ARE AWESOME. More wacky penis facts! We demands it!

    EAP: Did you see the bit in the BBC Mammals series about aquatic mammals, in which we get to see the humpback whales and their prehensile penises? Watching that while listening to David Attenborough narrate assorted whale penis facts in his plummy tones was perhaps one of the more surreal TV moments I’ve encountered.

  25. 25
    celeste says:

    Then, of course, there’s the bit in one of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Werehunter novels where the wolfish hero’s penis gets so abnormally huge while he’s inside the heroine that he has to cast a spell on her so she’ll forget how long it took for the thing to decompress.

    Or did I dream that one night after way too much tequila?

  26. 26
    CindyS says:

    Okay, anyone have a picture of a horse-chestnut?

    I had no clue that dogs had a, uh, bone in their bone.

    When it comes to nature shows, I much prefer watching them ‘do it’ than watching them get eaten by a tiger or something.

    CindyS

  27. 27
    Nicole says:

    I think Lora Leigh has a fantasy about barbed penises because all the heroes in her books have them (other than teh contemps, and then those guys are doing their SILs). 

    Though I should send you the book I’m reading now.  See, there was this wolf and this guy and this rape…only the guy was liking it….uh yeah.

  28. 28
    cassie (de-lurking) says:

    “Okay, anyone have a picture of a horse-chestnut?”

    Courtesy of google: http://www.dereila.ca/dereilaimages/HorseChestnutFruit.jpg

    Unless you mean the chestnut that’s part of a horse (the grey scab-like thing on the inside of the left front leg above the knee and on the left hind just below the hock (they’re on all four legs, but not visible in the picture –  http://www.worldclasswarmbloods.com/ramiro_zbigcrop.jpg)), which was my first thought, but the having spikes part confused me until I looked up horse chestnuts and saw the other type.

  29. 29
    Jeri says:

    Alison can confirm this for me, but I believe that after dogs have mated, they are, er, tied together for a period of time.  The dog literally can’t withdraw until the penis shrinks again.  From what I’ve heard, it’s pretty humorous, because the dog and the bitch are pretty much just standing there, sometimes facing away from each other by now, looking embarrassed.  The mood is totally over, and you can imagine them making uncomfortable small talk:

    “Um, so, uh…do you like kibble?”

    I think werewolf stories should incorporate this fun fact.

  30. 30
    Victoria Dahl says:

    Yeah, one of the Kenyon books touched on this. (Heh. Touched.) I think I remember the hero trying to hide the fact that his orgasm went on for a couple of minutes.

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