Fascinated

Bertrice Small, Susan Johnson, Thea Devine and Robin Schone
2000, Erotic Romance
Kensington, $14.00, 378 pages, Amazon ASIN 1575666065

Grade: D
Sensuality: Burning

They're back. The leading ladies of erotic romance have brought us 4 new tales that, just like the ones in their earlier anthology Captivated, are not for the faint of heart. I must warn you, if you are prone to blushing or if you are prone to giggling at really purple prose, do not read this book in public.

European Historical Romance (Georgian England)
Bertrice Small leads off with Mastering Lady Lucinda, a story that lost me very, very early on. Lady Lucinda is the wealthy widow of a nobleman. The story is set in Georgian times and women back then were not supposed to live alone, so she is staying with her brother, the Bishop of Wellington, and his wife. Lucinda wants to have her own house and she is rich enough to afford it, but her brother insists she must marry again, and marry well. Lucinda turns down the three suitors to her hand, and they become enraged. They decide she must be disciplined. They have her kidnapped and brought to their club where she is turned over to The Master to be subdued.

The Master begins with a public rape and then takes Lucinda to his home where he and his three lusty footmen have lots and lots and lots and lots of sex with her. As is usual with Small, 4 letter words keep company with the purplest of prose and this story features one of the (sadly) most funny lines I have ever read. "Wake up Lucinda! It is time for your morning spanking."

I lost interest early in the story when, during a sexual interlude with his wife, the Bishop tells his wife he and his brothers had sex with their sisters. Skanky is one thing, but incest is beyond the pale.

  • Characters: One dimensional, skanky and creepy - all of them.
  • Prose style: When the deep purple falls....
Grade: F

Historical Romance (Monte Carlo)
Susan Johnson's story is a surprise. Delightful, sweet and a confection are not words that one associates with Susan Johnson, but Risking It All is all of that and more. Felicia Greenwood is a widow under straitened circumstances. She is currently in Monte Carlo, and while there she decides to try her luck at the gambling tables. While she is gambling, she meets a handsome stranger and together they win a mint of money. The charged atmosphere affects them both and soon they are back in his room where passion has its way with them both.

This story has lots of dialogue, a blessed lack of purple prose and two characters who are lively and have a good time in bed. There is lots of sex, of course and some four letter words, but unlike the other stories in this book, the characters in this one actually seem to like each other and care for each other. That makes all the difference.

  • Characters: Passionate, and surprisingly sweet and lovable
  • Prose style: Great dialogue and only the lightest touches of lavender.
Grade: B

European Historical Romance (1800s England)
Thea Devine's story, The Pleasure Game has the highest ick factor I have encountered in a long time, along with descriptions of sex that are so charged, I wondered why the characters didn't detonate and start another Great Fire of London.

Regina finds out that her father would like to make a match between her and their long time friend and neighbor Jeremy. Regina is a spoiled little brat and has her heart set on Lord Marcus Raulton, a rake of the worst sort. Why? Go figure. One night at a rout, Jeremy shows up, all tall dark and handsome, but Regina still wants Raulton. Why? I dunno, to get the story going? So Regina dances with Raulton, which causes Jeremy to get really jealous. Then Regina asks Jeremy to show her the ways of a mistress so she can please Raulton.

Now settle back, readers - the next part is one long orgy of cursing, four letter words and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of sex. Devine leaves no time for Regina and Jeremy to cool off, slow down, take a rest, or (and this is where the ick comes in) wash at all. They leave no position untried and no square inch of their persons unsticky (if you get my drift). Jeremy also has a big fixation with Regina's nipples which are described over and over and over again. I was torn between snickering at the profane and overheated prose and longing for soap and water.

  • Characters: Kinky, kinkier, kinkiest
  • Prose style: Lots of italics, one sentence paragraphs, and light purple, very overheated prose. Jeremy constantly refers to Regina as "fancy-piece," which sent me into fits of snickering
Grade: F

European Historical Romance (1800s England)
Robin Schone's offering, A Man and A Woman has yet one of her older heroes (53) and older heroines (48) both of whom are laden with:
Woe
Gloom
Despair

Megan Branwell is the widow of a clergyman who, since she could not have children and he believed that sex was only for procreation, had not had sex with her for over 20 years, leaving her:
Bereft
Alone
Horny

So frustrated Megan pretends to be a prostitute and finds herself in the company of a man, an Arab who calls himself Mohammed. This man is as bereft and gloomy as she is, and he too longs for fulfillment. So they begin an affair complicated by the fact that Mohammed is a eunuch:
How
Do they
Do it?!

Dear readers, all I will say is that there are degrees of eunuchism. Read the story for yourself.

With this story, Robin Schone comes perilously close to self-parody. There is still some of the deep sensuality and tenderness that permiated A Lady's Pleasure (her title in last year's anthology), but the overpowering gloom, despair and agony of theses characters was so far over the top, that I came close to laughing out loud at the heavy handed angst and one sentence paragraphs. Now, I am not at all opposed to darkness and anguish in my characters and story, but this was way, way too much of it. Please, Ms Shone, please write a story about a couple who are happy and well-adjusted next time. Happy people have sex too.

  • Characters: Dark, gloomy, despairing.
  • Prose style: Too many one sentence paragraphs make for very choppy reading.
Grade: C-

Fascinated like Captivated has one really good story and three not so good ones. The sensuality quotient of this one is hotter than any I have ever read, so sensitive readers should be warned. Handle with fireproof gloves.

LLB: When the first anthology for this four authors was released in 1999, Susan Johnson was still writing for Bantam. Since that time, she was signed by Kensington, who now has all four of these authors under large contracts. Seems like they're creating a new niche market for erotic romance. What do you think?

-- Ellen Micheletti

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