Sunday, June 20, 2004

Review: Once Upon A Pillow (anthology) by Christina Dodd, Connie Brockway

Title: Once Upon a Pillow
Author: Christina Dodd, Connie Brockway

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: January 27, 2004
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 0743459466
ISBN-13: 9780743459464

As Laurel Whitney leads a tour of an old English manor, she tells romanticized tales of how the exquisite Masterson bed affected the lives of couples who slept in it. The actual stories—which sweep through medieval times, the Elizabethan era, and the Regency period—are sexier and bawdier than she can say! Shocked to see her former lover on the tour, Laurel is even more surprised to find their love rekindled when a twist of fate tempts them to give the famed Masterson bed a whirl.

My rating:

This book suffers from short-storiness, if you ask me. As we all know it's tough writing short stories, since you have to cramp up a plot, believable characters and their development, romance, and the resolution in approx. 100 pages, give or take a page or two.

And though some anthologies are pretty decent (at least parts of some anthologies), this is not the case with Once Upon A Pillow.

The four stories revolve around a famous bed - The Bed. Which is pretty nifty if you ask me, if it weren't all botched up.

The first story, set in the Middle Ages, about how The Bed came to be was pretty sweet, with a battle-scarred hero that is still a decent, piece-loving guy despite having "served time" in a Saracen prison. The heroine though comes through as a blood-thirsty wench on her way to sainthood. Throw in three blood-thirsty monks, a young would-be suitor and you have Connie Brockway's story.

There is not much background for the characters, no development whatsoever. One day they're married by proxy with her hating his guts and him just calmly taking it all in stride and the next they're madly in love with each other and making master's sons.

Christina Dodd takes the quill next for an Elizabethan era would-be-romp, which is just plain weird, if you ask me. The hero kidnaps the heroine thinking it's her cousin, that in reality set the heroine up to be "ruined" because she hates her. So the heroine, trying to make the best of things, turns the hero's castle into a well-run household and his battle-weary men into gentlemen in a day.

The two resist their attraction, because he must marry a heiress to keep his castle and his lands, but they end up in The Bed anyway, because her friend and his friend set them up. But even after they did the deed he still needs an heiress and she leaves only to fall into the clutches of her uncle that tries to kill her, but the hero saves her, she turns out to be an heiress and they all live happily ever after.

The third story, once again by Ms. Brockway, is a little too similar to Ms. Dodd's story in My Scandalous Bride. There are smugglers, a suspected brother (though he's alive), a huge misunderstanding between hero and heroine, and the hero ending up chained to the bed. The only difference is the fact that they use chains and the heroine ends up in the same predicament.

At least this one had a semblance of a backstory to it.

The fourth, wrapping up The Bed saga is a contemporary by Ms. Dodd, and it just freaked me out. Up to a few months past the heroine had apparently been one of the rare twenty-something virgins in England, the hero "deflowered" her and in a bout of chivalrous behavior immediately asked her to marry her.

That which would have worked nicely for a historical, is just a right-hook into the teeth for a twenty-first century romance. What the heck?!

The plot basically leaked like a barrel after a rundown with Al Capone's men. Besides the obvious ludicrous backstory of a one night of passion ending up in a marriage proposal, there are some more smugglers and Interpol agents thrown in the mix, with the final revelation of the hero's true heritage.

All in all, I give it four stars for the welcome workout my eyes underwent with all the rolling.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Review: My Scandalous Bride (anthology) by Christina Dodd, Celeste Bradley, Stephanie Laurens, Leslie LaFoy

Title: My Scandalous Bride
Author: Christina Dodd, Celeste Bradley, Stephanie Laurens, Leslie LaFoy

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: May 28, 2004
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
ISBN: 0312995229
ISBN-13: 9780312995225

Christina Dodd, "The Lady and the Tiger"

Laura Haver will stop at nothing to find out who killed her brother-even if it means posing as the wife of notorious rogue Keefe Leighton, the Earl of Hamilton. But things go too far when Keefe engages Laura in an artful game of seduction-a game that can have only one winner...

Stephanie Laurens, "Melting Ice"

Once, Dyan St. Laurent Dare, Duke of Darke, dreamed of making Lady Fiona his bride. Now they're together again-at a scandalous dinner party where debauchery is the menu's main course. But will wedding bells ring after the guests get their just desserts?

Celeste Bradley, "Wedding Knight"

Alfred Knight will do anything to avoid a scandal-even marry a woman he barely knows. But his bride has a most titillating she'll share as soon as she conquers her temptation for the man she was never supposed to marry!

Leslie LaFoy, "The Proposition"

Rennick St. James, the Earl of Parnell, has four days to seduce London's most popular widow into becoming his wife-or else she'll marry another man. It won't be easy...but Rennick has been lusting after the beguiling Julia Hamilton far too long to let her go now...

My rating:

I admit to buying this book because the cover bore Christina Dodd's name, but her story, The Lady and the Tiger, was a huge disappointment. Don't get me wrong, I love steamy scenes, but there were too many crammed up in a novella. Instead of exploring the spy plot more fully, Ms. Dodd concentrated on the lead couple's sexapades at times plunging the plot into weak chick-porn.

Stephanie Laurens's Melting Ice was a pleasant surprise. There was still enough steam to boil Chinese dumplings, but at least she gave her characters an extremely believable back story that made the reader root for the two to finally clear the humongous misunderstanding and have their deserved HEA.

Celeste Bradley's Wedding Knight was a delight to read. Though the premise was quite outrageous to begin with, the plot was charming, the two leads at first glance complete opposites, yet so similar. Maybe the "mystery" took a little too long to unravel, resulting in a hasty, rather patched-up ending, but still, this story was an endearing one. It most definitely put Ms. Bradley on my map.

Leslie LaFoy's The Proposition is another little gem in this quartet of novellas. It's a bittersweet and poignant take on "the second chance" everyone deserves yet few get. Rennick's words "I'll wait for you, Julia. For as long as I must." give additional emotional weight to the already deep story of second chances and the difference between forgiving and forgetting, yet ending up doing both.