Four Dukes and a Devil
When it comes to anthologies, it pays to keep your priorities straight. This is how I square it: Entertainment + No Real Problems + Happy Feelings = Satisfaction. So after reading Avon’s latest anthology and doing some calculations, I can conclude that it works. And the cover is not bad either.
Sophia Nash’s contribution, Catch of the Century, doesn’t feel as polished as it should or could, which is a pity, because there’s a lot going for it. Victoria Givens, orphanage employee, is escorting three of her charges to an apprenticeship when they get stranded; the Duke of Beaufort (aka Catch of the Century) rescues them. I think Ms. Nash was aiming for screwball comedy, but often the humor comes off as heavy-handed. The author is also too enamored of her Widows Club series and inserts so many of its characters and references that this story suffers, something that, given the page limit, it can’t afford. However, there are some nice moments in both dialogue and prose, and character development is solid albeit unevenly paced. I’m going to keep an eye on this author. Sensuality: Warm
If Old School were a sub-genre, Tracy Anne Warren’s Charmed By Her Smile would qualify since I haven’t read this plot or come across characters like these in ages. During a house party, 18-year-old young miss asks 32-year-old bored rake to pretend to court her to fob off an unwanted suitor, during which they fall in love. Groan. But it worked. The character portraits aren’t very profound, but the hero and heroine have heaps of chemistry, they get along well, and the unwanted suitor was a believable source of conflict. And it’s so romantic. Sigh. I haven’t read Ms. Warren in a while but I’ll be digging right back in. Sensuality: Warm
Devil to Pay takes place in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress world about which I know nothing, but Ms. Frost wisely minimizes the world-building and focuses on this story. Blake has been possessed by a demon who has turned him into a murderer and he’s about to throw himself in the path of a subway when he meets vampire Elise. Something about Blake and his predicament galvanizes Elise out of her decades-old aloofness and she helps him exorcise his demon. The development of Blake and Elise’s feelings is a little uneven, but the story isn’t bad, the demon is suitably scary. I was intrigued enough with Ms. Frost’s vampires that I’ll have to look for more. Sensuality: Subtle
Now on the other hand, Elaine Fox’s The Duke Who Came to Dinner is only 60 pages long but the author makes the most of every one. How? She decides to entertain, and entertain most charmingly she does. One cold June morning in Massachusetts, Sam Gregory spies a naked woman pedalling furiously in front of his house. They meet later at the local bar; turns out Gray Gilliam threw caution to the wind (her goal for the summer), went skinny-dipping, and had her clothes stolen by Sam’s dog. Plus, there is a ghost haunting Gray’s cottage. It’s contrived, it’s cute, and I found it utterly charming in spite of myself. I have a new author to glom. Sensuality: Warm
Cathy Maxwell’s The Irish Duke is a paltry 50 pages, which includes an epilogue, and boy does it show. Susan Rogers is a marriage advisor to the debutantes of the ton and when she says something that gets twisted out of proportion, it is left to the Irish Duke to reap the fallout. In revenge, the Irish Duke makes a wager about her, which ruins her reputation, but then they realize they love each other, and elope to Scotland. This is where the math comes in: Zero chemistry + Too much telling + Near-invisible characterization = Zero interest. The story is not bad, just deadly dull and fatally unwritten. I could see this as a novella, though. Sensuality: Subtle