Private Places

Allyson James, Claudia Dain, Shiloh Walker and Robin Schone
2008, Historical Romance
Berkley, $14.00, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425221725

Grade: C
Sensuality: Varies

Private Places is billed as an historical erotic anthology. Though the sensuality levels varied wildly from story to story and one historical setting was so one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other, there are a couple of gems in here.

European Historical Romance (1830s [Victorian] England)
Sensuality: Hot
With yet another pen name, Allyson James (aka Jennifer Ashley and Ashley Gardner) starts off the anthology with a sexy tale of second chances in The Decidedly Devilish Duke. Ten years ago, Michael, heir to a dukedom, ruthlessly pursued Amelia, a diamond in her first Season, but he was too aggressive and confident, expecting her to fall at his feet in gratitude, and she was too proud, having too much fun exerting her power. They've both regretted their actions and now, both widowed, Michael comes to Amelia's rescue by extracting her from a nasty situation with her slimy brother-in-law and then proposing marriage.

This is a nice little story and moves along at a fast clip. I enjoyed the characters, learning how to play piquet (the sexy play of the card game is an integral part of the narrative), and the resolution of the external conflict, although it was a bit too manufactured for me. I also felt the couple reconciled somewhat too quickly; whether you buy it depends upon how much you believed they were in love a decade earlier, so I'd have appreciated a little more backstory. But space is limited in an anthology and James did a good job of using her space well. Grade: B

European Historical Romance (1780s [Georgian] England)
Sensuality: Warm
I'm still not sure what Claudia Dain was trying to do in A Night at the Theater. The story all takes place, as the name implies, within one evening at the theater. Two courtesans, one a woman in the prime of her life who is now ready to marry, the other a very young girl new to the biz, set their sights on a single earl and a married duke, respectively. They all join forces to get what they want - whether it be love or revenge.

This takes place during the bawdier Georgian period and I believe the titillation factor is supposed to be derived by the public backdrop against which the seductions take place, but it all left me a bit cold and was not very sexy. I didn't particularly like any of the characters or believed that any of these people fell in love during the course of the evening. Grade: D

Shapeshifter Romance (1780s Virginia)
Sensuality: Hot
Hunter's Mercy by Shiloh Walker goes in a completely different direction. Jack Callahan is finally returning to his home, three years after the end of the Revolutionary War, to keep a promise made to a dying friend to watch over his sister. Jack thought Mercy a pest when they were growing up together, whereas Mercy was a tomboy who adored Jack. She is in trouble now, though, and could use Jack's help. Her husband was killed before her eyes by "monsters" and she now goes out at night tracking the werewolves. Jack is also a shapeshifter, but one with special gifts, a "Hunter" whose job it is to protect humans from the kind of "ferals" that killed Mercy's husband. Can he protect Mercy and will she still want him when she learns he's a "monster" too?

This story really seemed to belong to a different anthology - it is the only one not set in England and the only one with paranormal elements to it. It really took me by surprise, but what also took me by surprise was the fact that I kind of liked it. I'm not a shapeshifter fan, and indeed, those aspects of the story were my least favorite, but Walker has created some interesting characters, with some depth to them, and the relationship between Jack and Mercy was touching and sexy. Grade: B

European Historical Romance (1880s [Victorian] England)
Sensuality: Burning
Robin Schone's The Men and Women's Club builds on her last book, Scandalous Lovers and, in fact, takes place during the action in that book. Joseph and Ardelle are seemingly the most buttoned-down members of the Men and Women's Club, an actual club existing in 1880s London, formed to discuss "sexology," or issues between the sexes, in a scholarly fashion. The club and its members are about to be publicly exposed and Joseph takes the opportunity to confront Ardelle about their unspoken past - both together and separately - and their simmering attraction. It is a long - and exhausting night.

I had quite a few problems with this story. I don't know if it can be read without having read Scandalous Lovers beforehand to get all the undercurrents and context. It obviously belongs to another book and feels just randomly plopped down into this anthology. Robin Schone's minimalist writing style and sometimes "icky" subject matter is really hit or miss for me. Though her previous book earned a positive review from me last year, too much rawness in both the dialogue and the sex made this one a miss. Grade: D

Private Places works out to a C average. What surprised me is that the two authors I had read and enjoyed before - Dain and Schone - were the disappointments, while the new-to-me's - James and Walker - were surprisingly good - especially Walker. If she ever writes a straight historical, I'll be all over it.

-- Cheryl Sneed

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