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REVIEW: Necking anthology, edited by Julianne Bentley

Necking: A Dreamspinner Press AnthologyDear Authors.

The theme of this anthology is gay male threesomes, so I’m not sure where the title comes from. I opened the volume because it has stories by some of my favorite Dreamspinner authors (Merrow, Cullinan, Black) and because I love m/m romances AND threesome stories. Some of the stories have a HEA for all three partners together, but making that work in a short story is sometimes difficult. And some of them are just pure erotica, where three hot guys get together and have hot sex. There are worse ways to spend an evening (worse ways than reading it, I mean. Although I guess doing it would be fun too…).

“The Thank You Note” by Jamie Freeman
Army (WTF with that name?!) and Roddy are long-term lovers and they decide to celebrate their 7th anniversary by bringing in a third. The story is told in three “Acts” from each of the men’s perspectives, and starts from Army’s POV, remembering with Roddy the evening before with Aidan and how Army and Roddy met at a performance of Aida. Roddy takes over and remembers how they hooked up with Aidan through Craigslist and remembers the night, and then Aidan takes over and reveals how they get back together. This is a well-crafted story. The understated tension arises from Roddy’s hard limit on the encounter of no emotional entanglement. The characters are distinguishable and fun, the relationship themes are strong and draw the personalities together in a way that you know they’re going to make it. Grade: B+

“Not Just a Piece of Meat” by Zahra Owens
While I enjoyed the unusual professions of these men — Shawn owns a butchers shop, his partner Peter is a cook who makes take-home dinners (kinda like Whole Foods’ buffet, I think), and Karl is a butcher and their employee — the story itself is uninspired. The men are distinguishable only in that Shawn is the alpha, Peter the bottom, and Karl somewhere in the middle, literally and figuratively. They don’t have any personality quirks and there is no tension in the plot. They get together, have fun, have (I think?) double penetration of Peter (as in, two penises, one anus), although Karl doesn’t seem to realize this, have some more fun, and all move in together, done. Blah. Grade: C-

“Getting a Filling” by J.L. Merrow
Ivo goes to the dentist to get a filling, taking his boyfriend Colin with him for moral support. Ted, the dentist, is adorable and when they meet a few weeks later at a bar, they get together and “help” Ivo over his phobia by having a hot scene in the dentist chair (Ted lives above his practice and they get sidetracked on their way to his bedroom). Hygiene aside, this is a laugh-out loud funny story. Or at least I laughed out loud, probably because I have a sophomoric sense of humor.

He leaned over Ivo, the heat of his body a tangible thing. “Open wide, please.”

Oh, I’d love to open wide for you, Ted, Ivo thought. Green eyes widened, and in the corner Colin made a sort of spluttering sound. Ivo felt a sudden chill. “Did I say that aloud?”

“Oh, yes.”

And, because I can’t resist:

“Now, you’re going to feel my fingers in your mouth,” Ted began in a soothing voice.

“Yes, I always think it’s best to start with fingers,” Colin put in unhelpfully. “Especially when the guy’s nervous.”

Ivo’s jaw twitched with tension as latex-clad fingers invaded his mouth. “Try not to bite me, Ivo, if you can,” Ted murmured.

“He’s usually so good about that,” Colin mused.

This was a fun, quick read, very different from Merrow’s more weighty shorts in the Sindustry volumes. Grade: B

“1+1+1 IS 3” by Evan Gilbert
College boys Tavian, Deangelo, and Ike all meet in a bookstore in Chicago and try to get together, but are thwarted by being college students with no place private to go. I appreciate the racial diversity (Deangelo’s black, Tavian’s…not white?), but the head-hopping and having Deangelo call their penises their “friends” was a little off-putting. A cute story, weightless, but intriguing enough that I’d like to read about their growing relationship. Grade: C

“Beautiful Friend” by Dar Mavison
Emerson organizes a three-way with his innocent, inexperienced occasional lover Gabriel and his long-time business partner, lover, and best friend Tex. The characters are beautifully drawn and the sex is smoking hot. But what this story is really about is about bucking societal expectations. Because he’s small, slight, and ethereally beautiful, Gabriel has always assumed he should bottom and that big, muscle-bound Tex and Emerson could only top. They teach him differently and do it brilliantly well. Grade: B+

“Neighbors by Day, Naughty by Night” by Devon Rhodes
Jason has just moved in with Kevin and they are very much in love. But one day, he wakes up and their friend and neighbor, Marty, is in their bed too. Jason’s pretty pissed until Kevin explains that Marty sleepwalks…right into Kevin’s bed. Kevin and Jason use this as an opportunity both to strengthen their relationship with each other and to invite Marty into their lives. The story is told in alternating perspectives. The characters are strong and interesting and the emotional tension is light but real. Grade: B

“Skunk, Bryan, Spoon (and a Badger)” by Aundrea Singer
A science fiction story that could just as easily not be science fiction. Bryan is the navigator and second pilot for Skunk, who pilots spaceships, but Skunk and Spoon have a rivalry that almost gets them all killed when the mock dogfight they’re engaged in almost turns real. Spoon’s co-pilot insists that Bryan control Skunk, which he attempts to do with sex, until Spoon shows up, reveals that he and Skunk were former lovers, and joins in. Then Bryan controls both of them with the threat of walking away and not letting either of them fuck him. Bryan is very tentative and unsure of himself until he’s caught between these two macho men and he takes charge, which is very cool to see. A cute story with very Top Gun feel to it. Grade: B

“Homecoming” by Emily Moreton
Ben comes home one evening to find Raul in bed with their third partner, Matt, who has been away for four months working as a psychologist with the FBI on a serial killer case. We learn nothing about the case and very little about the genesis of their relationship. What is important to this story is centering Matt back into their threesome, pulling him away from the horror he’s been working with for so long. It’s a good story, with great characters, although, again, the double penetration scene is a little…unbelievable, but maybe that’s just my own prejudice. I really don’t think it’s that easy. I love how they’re all so fucked out at the end of it that all they want to do is sleep. Grade: B

“Unwrapped: The Birthday Gift” by Josephine Myles
Dave wants a third for his 25th birthday, despite the fact that he’s worried history will repeat itself because he got together with Mark during a threesome with his (Dave’s) ex-girlfriend. But Mark finds Pedro for him anyway, an American visitor who is 56 (!) but still very hot. Dave freaks out a bit, but then they have amazing sex and Dave freaks out less and less and learns something:

And so I watched them kiss, watched Pedro touching Mark, and against all my prior expectations, I really enjoyed it, generous feelings warming me inside, along with a pride in Mark. A joy that he was attractive to other men, and that he was still mine. A joy that I could share out the sweet goodness of this man, but that it wouldn't diminish our relationship.

Maybe it was that I was getting a little weary of all the sex in the anthology, but the sex is bracketed by Dave’s freakouts, rather than part of it. There could have been more tension by giving the sex more emotional weight during the sex. The dialogue was also a little stilted, but the story was still fun. Grade: B-

“Bacon Bits” by G.S. Wiley
The story is told from the first person perspective of (as far as I can tell) an unnamed bicycle messenger, who lives with Patrick, a romantic, buttoned-down executive. Alex, the narrator’s best friend and former fuck-buddy comes to visit, and at first relieves the narrator by getting along with Patrick much better than the narrator had thought he would, but then embarrasses the narrator by flirting with Patrick instead. They flirt their way into bed and have hot sex, which only affirms the strength of their bonds. This story is short, compared with most of the others (although I have a hard time telling on my iPhone), but sweet. Grade: B-

“Snowbound” by Jana Denrado
Set in 1931 in an alternate universe with demons, the three characters are all demon-hunters caught in a snowstorm in Pittsburgh. We get into Temple’s head and family background a bit (his father was abusive, his grandfather more so). Fighting and sexual partners Caleb and Agni are a good unit and Temple insinuates himself to everyone’s satisfaction for the duration of the storm, during which they also do some demon-fighting. The time period is well-set and the world-building is good for the length of the story. Grade: B-

“Breaking the Habit” by Heidi Champa
Three roommates try to find something to distract themselves from their mutual pact to stop smoking and end up having sex. A very short story, but the smoking is overstated, the dialogue stilted, and the sex kinda blah. And the ending sucked. Yuck. Grade: C-

“Perform for Me” by Lori Toland
This story was a little disjointed in that it was trying to keep a secret and yet reveal it at the same time. Corey’s kink is voyeurism and he particularly enjoys watching a Dom and his sub perform at a local club. He goes week after week to watch them, then comes home to fuck the brains out of his partner, Justin. One week, though, after Justin gives him permission, Corey is invited into the show and enjoys himself immensely…until he freaks out in the parking lot afterwards. I won’t give away the obvious plot twist, but it was an interesting story about partners working with each other to satisfy all parts of themselves, even if they can’t satisfy them with each other. Grade: B-

“An American in Seville” by Lenore Black
Tony is in Seville, Spain, with his Ugly American boss and colleague. They don’t see any of the town until their last night of the trip, when they go to watch Flamenco dancing because they were given free tickets by clients. Tony, who has been numb since his wife left him more than a year before, is fascinated by the main male dancer, who is obviously in a relationship with one of the guitar players. Tony sees Alejandro and Javier outside the building when he escapes for air and they invite him into their bed. While playing with them, he realizes that yes, he actually IS bisexual and that he can’t go back to his life of quiet desperation in Ohio. There’s one line that stuck with me:

He can't imagine why he ever thought Javier plain when his face has the stern sweetness of a
Renaissance angel, his eyes warm as caramel and flecked with gold, an intangible luster to him that Tony thinks might simply be the fact that he is loved so much.

I love that. The essence of love is making someone else beautiful. This is a bittersweet and yet optimistic story, told, strangely enough, in the present tense. Grade: B

“Down the Middle” by Heidi Cullinan
This story is so different from all the rest and drew me in the most. Parker and Robbie have been together for seven years but they are drifting apart, fighting more, having sex less, and can’t seem to do anything about it, even though they both still love each other. Parker sees David at a party and begins to dominate him sexually, until Robbie catches them. Parker and Robbie end up at home, about to admit the end, when David shows up and Robbie invites him in, almost as an insult to Parker. But through their experience with David, they begin to find their way back to each other. Cullinan’s writing is emotional and evocative and oh so hot. Definitely saved the best for last. Grade: A-

To be honest, after a while, the sex all kind of blended together. It’s the emotions I’m reading for, of course, and those were strongest in the stories by Cullinan, Black, Freeman, and Mavison. None of the stories were awful and, while none stood out as brilliant, Cullinan’s came pretty close, and the overall quality of the anthology was very good. As I said, there are many worse ways to spend an evening than to peruse this anthology.

Overall grade: B

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

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Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

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