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REVIEW: Three to Tango by Lauren Dane, Megan Hart, Emma Holly...

Oh dear. Yes, that’s what I said when I finished reading this book. During the various stories I also said the following: WTF!?, Shut UP!, No way…, and Huh?

Three to Tango is a collection of four novellas all featuring m/f/m ménages and the tag-line on the cover says “sex is best when it’s one-on-one … plus one”; this is a little misleading because while two of these stories are about ménage relationships, two are more love triangles where the third person causes angst and discord.

three to tango I picked this volume up because I’ve read and enjoyed Emma Holly’s books–this winter I went on an Emma Holly read-a-thon after a conversation with Dear Author’s Janet; I’ve also read Lauren Dane’s Inside Out, which I loved. I had never read anything by Megan Hart, though I’ve been meaning to, and Bethany Kane is a new-to-me author; I love reading collections of short stories, they are great during my short commute to work or for a quick read on an evening when I don’t have the energy to read for hours.

I was sitting in the airport, waiting to board a connecting flight on the way home from a short business trip and reading an advanced reading copy of Three to Tango when I emailed Jane to comment that this read a lot like a draft. Particularly Lauren Dane’s and Emma Holly’s stories struck me as less polished than other of their work that I’ve read.

Three to Tango suffers from two main problems:

  1. Unpolished writing.
  2. Absurd scenarios.

dirty/bad/wrong by Lauren Dane

This is the story of Ava, who returns to her hometown upon her mother’s death and comes face to face with men from her past, Luca and Angelo. Ava has mommy issues (her mother was a selfish alcoholic who slept with married men). Angelo has being gay issues. Luca’s issue is that Ava and Angelo have issues that keep them all from being together.

Of the four, this story has the most flow problems. Sometimes I was confused about the activity going on, and that distracted from the emotional arc of the story. Other times the writing felt unpolished. The story itself is has great emotional potential, but the writing kept dragging me out of it. Here are two examples (the story is full of other examples):

She hesitated as past and present swam in her vision, disorienting her with a wave of memory so very strong and sweet. Her first days there when Maryellen had ever so gently tapped her shoulder each time she found her looking at the floor.

The first sentence is overwritten. The second is confusing. In the context of the story flow we understand that in the second sentence Ava is remembering how Maryellen helped Ava during a difficult time in her life by showing her kindness and caring.

Here’s another example:

The downy trail of hair leading from his navel inside the waistband of his jeans led to places she’d never forget.

I understand this sentence. And in my opinion it’s overwritten. In the sentence before this one we learn that Luca is in jeans, so delete “inside the waistband of his jeans”. The trail of hair shouldn’t have “led” in the same sentence that it’s “leading”. How about this:

”The downy trail of hair led to places she’d never forget.”

The writing in dirty/bad/wrong feels rushed and it was examples like these that made me comment to Jane about draft-like quality of this book. I don’t recall the same feeling of rushed writing in Inside Out, which as I recall was an emotional, tight book with characters that I loved.

In the end, I found the story less than compelling because the overwritten, rushed writing kept grabbing my attention away from the emotional drama of the three characters. F.

Just for One Night by Megan Hart

This story is the bright spot in the anthology. In Just for One Night Kerry and Jeremy have been dating for a long time and live together, they’re happy and comfortable together, except that Kerry still fantasizes about her high school best friend Brian. Jeremy encourages her to sleep with Brian because the thought of his girlfriend having sex with another man turns him on.

What follows is a satisfying emotional journey where Brian and Kerry have their one-night stand, then realize they want more. While Brian and Kerry each sort out what they really want, Jeremy gets hot imagining them together in bed. Of the characters, Jeremy is the least interesting and I found his actions were thoughtless and short-sighted. This story engaged me, the writing was tight. B

Flipping for Chelsea by Emma Holly

What I like best about Emma Holly’s books is that she creates memorable characters that she treats with respect and care. But I absolutely did not buy into this story because I don’t for a minute believe Liam’s acceptance of being part of a ménage with his BROTHER and the love-of-his-life.

Shay (Seamus) isn’t Liam’s blood brother; however, they were raised together and both called the same people Mom and Dad, and ‘brother’ is how they think of each other throughout the story.

I understand why Liam loves Chelsea. I understand why Shay loves Chelsea. I understand why Chelsea loves Liam. I understand why Chelsea emotionally loves Shay, but I do not understand why Chelsea needs Shay in a sexual relationship. And I absolutely do not believe that Liam would agree to include Shay in the romantic and sexual relationship that might develop between him and Chelsea.

In the end this story didn’t work for me because it felt contrived, and I didn’t believe the characters actions. What really killed this story was when Liam made a revelation about a past relationship/encounter. I  absolutely did not believe it fit with the character I’d come to know throughout the story—this particular moment crashed the entire thing and reduced it in my mind to a gratuitous set up solely for the reader’s titillation rather than a true emotional journey of the characters. F.

On the Job by Bethany Kane

This story is tightly woven story with polished writing. In fact, if not for the ménage I’d probably have rated it a B, even with Walker’s crazy dominating wacko-ness. However, the occurrence of the ménage was such an absurd set up for a spanking (you messed with another dude? I’m going to punish you…even though I told you to do it) that it ruined all credibility of Walker’s character.

Walker and Madeline were in love until Walker joined the Secret Service in an effort to pull himself out of poverty and make something of his life. He comes back into Madeline’s life as her bodyguard, hired by her friend Tony to keep her safe. Tony has pissed off the Russian Mafia and thinks Madeline might be killed because he’s convinced everyone (except Madeline, who considers Tony a good friend and occasional fuck-buddy) that he’s Madeline’s finance.

Are you still with me?

Madeline and Walker come back together and have hot sexual encounters with Walker dominating Madeline and getting all possessive and telling her she’s his. Fast forward and they’re all on Tony’s yacht when Walker decides to spank Madeline for touching another man, then does an about face and tells Madeline to give Tony a blow job because he’s going to prison.

WTF?! Seriously. W. T. F.

Thankfully this was the last story. I am done with Three to Tango and just want to erase this book from my brain. F.

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The first book Jaclyn can recall reading all by herself was Cinderella (a pink Disney edition) and all these years later she remains an avid reader of fairy tales, myths, and historical romances. Jaclyn's TBR also overflows with science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, contemporary, thrillers, and mystery. During the workday she can be found navigating the digital transformation at a university press.

23 Comments

  1. Mandi
    May 09, 2011 @ 06:42:53

    I agree that I liked Megan Hart’s story the best.

    And I agree with some of your other points but maybe not the F’s – Dane’s story is lacking plot a little – I thought Ava might have jumped into bed too quickly but the sex is really well written in my opinion.

    I totally agree with your points made about Holly’s and Kane’s stories. I enjoyed Kane’s writing – even though Walker was a little too dominate for me – until the end with the menage. Where in the world did that come from? Felt really out of place.

    I liked Hart’s and Dane’s story enough and the beginning of Kane’s to recommend it though.

    ReplyReply

  2. SH
    May 09, 2011 @ 06:53:50

    Lauren Dane is the only one out of this group whose stories I’ve read before.

    I’ve never been able to understand the fuss, as everything I’ve read by her has had me itching with the urge to pull out a red pen and start editing!

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  3. Sami Lee
    May 09, 2011 @ 07:17:07

    The idea of brothers indulging in menages has been done before with much success by Maya Banks (brothers by blood in her case). Personally it pushes my ick button, the idea of brothers sharing the same woman, but clearly many readers are happy to read stories with that premise. Whatever floats the boat I suppose.

    This sounds like a disjointed offering, which can often be the problem with anthologies. Thanks for the review.

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  4. Jane
    May 09, 2011 @ 08:11:25

    The Dane story was too disjointed for me to enjoy because of the writing. I kept pausing, wondering what the sentence meant. In one scene, the heroine is coming out of the bathroom and engages in a liplock that is broken up by the sound of a dryer being finished. Was that a hair dryer? How does a hair dryer sound when finished. Was it the bell of a clothes dryer in her bathroom?

    The mothering smoothed Ava’s jitters as she took several bites of the cobbler, sure she looked totally sexy inhaling it as if it was oxygen or something.

    I think like Jaclyn, I get the core idea of what Dane is trying to express but it is a puzzler of a sentence. I get that the second sentence is supposed to be self deprecating thought but instead it reads very awkwardly.

    He knew she had fire inside her. Had admired it. Four years older than her, he’d been away at college for most of the time she’d worked for his parents. But it wasn’t until those last few months she was in Petal that he’d realized that more than admiration, he had a raging case of the what-would-she-look-like-nakeds for her.

    Four months. He’d seen her stripped bare and had never forgotten it. Innocent really, compared to most of the women he’d been with in the decade since. But she’d marked him with her jittery nature and her sad blue eyes.

    I still don’t know if this is supposed to be “for” months or “four” months because it had been a lot longer than four months since he had seen the heroine naked.

    Anyway, @Mandi Did you feel the Megan Hart story was strikingly similar to Ruin Me by Cara McKenna? Obviously one was told in the first person and the other (Hart’s) had two POVs, but the plot was so incredibly similar right down to the fact that both books have the characters eating lasagna before the unfortunate menage.

    And yes, I really enjoy Kane/Kery’s writing, but the pity menage had me laughing.

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  5. Mandi
    May 09, 2011 @ 08:25:18

    I have not read Ruin Me by McKenna – but that is odd – even the lasagna part…LOL.

    I was surprised by how much I liked Hart’s story – I was very skeptical with the set-up but the boyfriend’s unwavering attitude of letting Kerry have her fling with Brian really worked for me.

    And yes – the pity menage. Really? Felt like it was only there because this is a menage anthology. That being said, I want to read the new Bethany Kane – Addicted to You.

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  6. Christine M.
    May 09, 2011 @ 08:40:37

    Was this labelled as an erotica anthology?

    ReplyReply

  7. Jane
    May 09, 2011 @ 08:47:42

    @Christine M. Yes, I am pretty sure it was. I mean, doesn’t the title imply menage?

    ReplyReply

  8. FD
    May 09, 2011 @ 09:09:14

    I read the excerpt for the Lauren Dane, and hit the Maryellen/shoulder-tapping sentence and had exactly the same reaction. If I’m reading an excerpt, it had better be spell-checked, make sense and be readable because that’s what’s going to sell me, (or not) on buying the book. In this case it was a not.

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  9. FiaQ
    May 09, 2011 @ 09:31:39

    @Jane:

    Was that a hair dryer? How does a hair dryer sound when finished?

    Doesn’t it end with a low whine before it fades out? I don’t know. I haven’t used a hairdryer for years.

    ReplyReply

  10. Jaclyn
    May 09, 2011 @ 09:40:41

    @ChristineM Yes, the publisher labels the book ‘Erotica’ on the back cover.

    ReplyReply

  11. Amber Shah
    May 09, 2011 @ 10:04:00

    Based on the review, I was still thinking of buying for the Hart story… but I’ve already read Ruin Me. I loved it but don’t necessarily need a repeat. Even before this, though, I have thought that Cara McKenna’s writing is a lot like Megan Hart’s (they are probably my favorite erotica authors) so in that respect maybe it’s not shocking that they’d come up with the same story.

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  12. JacquiC
    May 09, 2011 @ 10:40:49

    I’ve had this issue with Lauren Dane’s writing before. I read the first book in her trilogy (“Laid Bare”, if I’m remembering correctly), and the second one (“Coming Undone”) and liked both. But I ended up skimming big parts of the third one (“Inside Out”) because this kind of sentence seemed to be rampant throughout and these sentences were often supposedly describing someone’s thought processes. I just couldn’t suspend disbelief that people would think in sentences like that. I was disappointed and hesitant about buying anything else of hers. After reading your review, I definitely won’t be buying this one!

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  13. Christine M.
    May 09, 2011 @ 10:47:46

    @Jane: Yeah it does but the reviews accentuate the lack of “emotional journey” in the novellas so I wondered if it might have been wrongly labelled as erotic romance instead.

    ReplyReply

  14. Jane
    May 09, 2011 @ 11:09:50

    @Christine M.: No, these are clearly meant to be romances, in my opinion. The Berkley Heat line rarely puts out “erotica”.

    I think this is a particularly evident in the Emma Holly story where she tries to convince the reader that the three can be a committed menage when the one guy really just wants to have a love relationship with the girl alone.

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  15. Jaclyn
    May 09, 2011 @ 11:23:43

    @ChristineM: I think I misunderstood your comment. Yes, the publisher lists erotica on the back cover, but they also have it categorized as erotic romance. On their web site it’s listed under ‘erotic romance’. The stories read to me like romances with a whole lot of sex.

    ReplyReply

  16. Christine M.
    May 09, 2011 @ 11:41:53

    @Jane: and @Jaclyn:

    That makes sense with the rating and the review itself. Thanks for the explanation ladies!

    ReplyReply

  17. Jane
    May 09, 2011 @ 13:18:45

    @Christine M.: I don’t the writing improves just by changing the genre designation.

    ReplyReply

  18. Christine M.
    May 09, 2011 @ 13:47:22

    @Jane: I’m pretty sure it doesn’t but I wondered why the reviews focused so much on the emotions etc since I believed this was supposed to be erotica. Now that I get it’s supposed to be erotica romance the review makes more sense to me (that or the lack of coffee confused my brain this morning when I first read the review).

    ReplyReply

  19. Amber Shah
    May 09, 2011 @ 20:21:45

    Just my 2 cents, but even if it’s technically “erotica”, the emotions are still important. Well, if it’s good erotica. Even if I read a 1K word short story on literotica I expect more than mechanical sex to consider it good/interesting.

    ReplyReply

  20. Amber Shah
    May 09, 2011 @ 20:22:43

    Just to add: I do not require an HEA for erotica, but their motivations and feelings during must be believable.

    ReplyReply

  21. Jane
    May 09, 2011 @ 21:18:31

    I agree Amber. I think that emotions are just as important in erotica. I think I understand that Christine was wondering if the lack of emotional connection was the flaw but the flaw was lack of believable emotional motivation.

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  22. Jaclyn
    May 09, 2011 @ 21:42:22

    Like @Amber Shah and @Jane said, I agree that emotions are important in erotica. In the instances where the players aren’t in an emotional relationship with each other, then their own emotional motivations and development is what’s interests me. For instance in “Hard on Ms. Hardin” by Lyla Sinclair, the two characters aren’t seeking an HEA together, but there’s an emotional journey (or perhaps awakening?) for the female protagonist. It’s told in first person, from her point of view, and her realizations and evolution are what carry the story between (and during) the episodes of steamy sex.

    The bottom line for me is I’m reading a story about a character or characters. An emotional arc in a story is what I find satisfying no matter the subject category.

    ReplyReply

  23. Review: Three to Tango Anthology | Smexy Books
    May 16, 2011 @ 06:35:12

    [...] Reviews: Love to Read for Fun – 4/5 Book Lovers Inc – 4.5/5 Dear Author – F [...]

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