The Devil's Doorbell
I agreed to review this anthology entirely because “the devil’s doorbell” is the best euphemism for “clitoris” I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Thankfully, the anthology was fantastic. There were far more hits than misses in the seven short stories, including two stories I gave DIK As (one by Jeffe Kennedy and one by M. O’Keefe.) There’s a wide range of story types, from sex with a stranger to an f/f encounter, so not all stories may be to everyone’s taste. I classified it as erotica because not all stories have satisfying romantic endings, but the majority do.
When Kelsey first sees Julian at a friend’s wedding, she’s boggled by his resemblance to her ex. Her stares draw his attention, and that, plus alcohol, is enough to get them boinking. I didn’t feel connected with the characters in In the Garden until after their sex scenes, but then I became rather fond of them and hopeful for their future. Author Anne Calhoun squanders page and word count on descriptions of the setting (the wedding venue, a garden). UK setting and dialogue are credible, but annoying glitches (reading Maria Ferrante novels? It’s Elena!) bring the writing score down.
In Exact Warm Unholy by Jeffe Kennedy, the heroine adopts various personas to go to a local bar and pick up men for sex as a way of dealing with her past, but the bartender may be seeing her more clearly than she intends. We don’t learn her name, or details about her past beyond her Judaism, until nearly the end of the story. This one kept me turning pages. Having the heroine move through partners results in a variety of sex scenes, from good sex to unsatisfying sex to sex that is rough and unsettling, and also manages to keep the heat level up while delaying gratification in the slowly-developing romance. A complex, troubled heroine whose sexuality is an integral part of her journey and a hero who wants her but also wants more: it’s everything you could ask for in erotic romance.
Delphine Dryden’s Red Leather opens after Maggie’s verbally abusive boyfriend left her for another woman. When that woman mails Maggie her vibrator back at work, and Maggie opens it in front of mail clerk Tim, the result is a cute and awkward but mutually satisfying episode in a storage room. Unfortunately, “cute and awkward” isn’t really the vibe I’m going for in an erotic story. There were so many bumbles in the sex scene that I was surprised the two of them kept managing to get back in the mood. At just one chapter, there’s not a lot of room for character development, and Maggie appeared to be using nice-guy-with-a-crush Tim as a stepping stone on her path to “New Maggie,” which felt exploitative and unkind.
Bette lives with Damian, who is submissive to her, but she is haunted by a man who got away. When he contacts her again, she goes to see him. I didn’t care for the plot of Drowning on Dry Land. Neither man was right for Bette. The old lover doesn’t love her, and she doesn’t love Damian. The plot tension was, I guess, supposed to come from wondering what she’d do, but knowing that neither of them was quite right made me not have an outcome to root for at all. This tale by Megan Hart is technically well written and the sex is hot, but I want more heart. Even in erotica, not erotic romance, I’d like to feel like the people aren’t alternately loathing and settling for each other.
In Devil in the Dark by Christine d’Abo, Shona, a young programmer, has developed an app for people to enter specific sexual fantasies and match up with people who want to enact them. When she tests it at a club, she matches with club owner Kevin. This story and the characters in it were fun and likeable, and I enjoyed the lack of angst. A lady getting exactly what she wants and a man getting off on giving it to her: if that’s your jam, you’ll find it here.
Megan Mulry’s heroine, Lana, is bisexual and London Calling has one f/f sex scene and one m/f, so at least it can be read for diversity, if not much else. What’s off is the characterization. Lana describes herself as ““the unicorn” the kind of rare woman sought by couples to fulfill their bisexual fantasies. She reads like precisely that: somebody’s fantasy, “gorgeous,” blond, co-owned a “design business” (of what?), went to an “Ivy League college” (why not pick one?), rich, but for some reason not using that money. Her sexual side also ties itself in knots trying to be perfect at all times.
She “never had any problem telling [her] husband what she wanted” but didn’t tell him about her bisexual fantasies, facts disclosed in the same sentence. She describes her desire to have a threesome, but never does in the story. She loves being dominated in one scene, loves dominating in the next. She was whatever she needed to be for the plot, in the moment, and consequently was nobody at all. Speaking of the plot… Lana answers Craigslist ad for a “facesitter” which leads her to a dominant bisexual married woman named Cybelle (I don’t see a phenomenally wealthy woman finding her kept girl on Craigslist. I just don’t). The long lead-up to the relationship, the one-year contract Lana signs with Cybelle (on vellum? The woman seriously wrote up a sex contract on calfskin?), Lana’s ambition to write a graphic novel – all of it felt like I was reading the opening chapters of a novel, not a short story. The abrupt ending left me feeling like I’d lost the next two-thirds of the book. Not recommended.
Rennie offers Luka the apartment over her Minneapolis metalworking shop free so his presence will deter break-ins. She realizes that he’s a tabloid figure, but I won’t give details because the author’s reveal is part of the plot. We Are All Found Things is a beautifully written story about a lost man learning to trust and discover what a male-female relationship can be. Luka is skittish and gentle; Rennie is interested but respectful. This is one of the most romantic stories and endings because the author takes time (both page count and months of story) to make their relationship plausible. In addition to character-rich sex scenes (and a male virgin, yay!), the setting is delightful. I love it when an author can transport me to a setting that isn’t exotic or glamorous, and I felt the Minneapolis locale from its sticky un-airconditioned summer to the craft brewery opening in the rough part of town. I immediately added M. O’Keefe and her other writer identity, Molly O’Keefe, to my to-buy list. This is one talented author and one great story.