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REVIEW: Four Play by Maya Banks and Shayla Black

Note: Even though I really liked Maya Banks’ contribution to Four Play, I couldn’t recommend the entire book because I didn’t really like the Black story. This is an occasion in which I wish publishers would sell digital copies of anthology contributions separately.

Dear Ms. Banks:

Your last foursome, Be With Me, was not on my list of favorite erotic romances. In some ways, I feel like a foursome is a bit like making the vampire a shapshifting werewolf with angel wings.

Four PlayIt’s an extreme fantasy. If one good man is a good thing then three good men are great, right? Within the fantasy construct, though, I thought that this story did a pretty good job of touching on some emotional and practical components of a foursome while still maintaining sexiness that the foursome is designed to achieve.

Zoe Michaels, a nurse, and Chase Hilliard, a firefighter, are a long time couple who house share with their two long time friends Brody McNamara and Tate Winslow who are also firefighters. Zoe and Chase enjoy a fairly lively sexual relationship. One night after a particularly lusty bout, the two begin to share fantasies with each other, pillow talk. One of Chase’s fantasies is for everyone to know what a hot piece she is. One of Zoe’s fantasies is a threesome capture fantasy.

Zoe has this idea to bring Chase’s fantasy to life by renting out a local strip club and being the star attraction. She recruits Broday and Tate to get Chase to the club with other members of the station (no married men, she limits) because it’s not something he would ordinarily do. Her semi-public strip tease is a resounding success and the next day at the fire house, Chase feels ten feet tall (he acknowledges that this is really immature but he loves it anyway).

Around him, the guys stared up at her in awe. They looked back and forth between her and Chase as if they couldn't quite believe what was going on.

Then he saw the jealousy and the lust in their eyes. It hit him with more power than he'd ever imagined in his fantasy. This was his girl onstage, giving him the performance of a lifetime, and his friends were watching, envying him with their every breath.

He glanced back at Brody and Tate and realized then that they must have been in on it. It explained their unease. He almost laughed. They looked a little green, and every time one of the guys yelled something to Zoe or made a motion like he wanted to touch, he thought they were going to resort to violence.

But he saw something else in their eyes. Something they probably didn't want anyone to see. He saw desire and yearning.

Chase wants to return the favor. He saw something in Brody and Tate that night at the strip club, something that confirms a feeling he may have subconsciously suspected. He approaches them about bringing her capture fantasies to life. Each new encounter, each enactment of a whispered fantasy emboldens Chase and he wants to carry out other fantasies until his behavior starts to threaten the relationship of the four of them.

"Are you in love with her?" Chase asked bluntly.

Tate's expression grew impassive. It was like iron bars rolled over his eyes. He was a hard son of a bitch.

"Now that would be pretty damn stupid, wouldn't it?" Tate asked softly. "Falling for my best friend's girl?"

"I didn't ask you if it was stupid. I asked if you were in love with her."

It was one thing for Brody and Tate to yearn for Zoe from afar, but having had a taste of her and what it could be to really have her like Chase has her, makes the living arrangements, the casual relationship nearly unbearable. Zoe and Chase and Brody and Tate all have to make decisions about their future.

Drawbacks to this story is that because a) it is shorter and b) there are so many players, Zoe seems to be swallowed up at times. I would have liked to have seen more screen time with her and her thoughts in this. Some of the optics of the situations, particularly with the foursome seemed awkward at times.

I thought the guy to guy talks were really authentic (as authentic as it can be in this fantasy construct) and that you did a very good job of making an unreal situation seem real. Even the ending, where the four talk about going forward together (and I don’t consider this a spoiler because it’s a romance about a foursome, dammit), addressed a few of the challenges a committed foursome might encounter. B

****

Dear Ms. Black:

I confess that your story suffered even greater because of the thoughtfulness of the Banks’ emotional storyline. I’m not certain that there is an emotional storyline in Her Fantasy Men. Kelsey is the object of three men’s affection. Her neighbor Rhys Adams has been trying to wrangle an invitation into her bed since they moved in next door to each other. Her boss, Jeremy Beck, has been fantasizing about his secretary of four years. And Kelsey’s best friend of fifteen years, Tucker Hall, has held her hand and dried her tears and hoped that one day she would be kissing him in passion.

The three of them confront each other one night at a house part at Kelsey’s house.

Which one of you lucky bastards is nailing Kelsey?" Rhys Adams leaned against the back of the sofa, beer in hand, and glanced at the other two men. "It isn't me, and she glows too much to be going without."

Figuring out that none of the three are getting lucky, they band together to figure out exactly what Kesley wants by rummaging through her belongings and hoping to find a private journal and read it. I think one of the major problems in this story is the overweaning skeeviness of it. They know Kelsey is a private person. They decide to invade her privacy, rifle through her personal items in hopes of finding documentation of her most private thoughts because up until now they have struck out with her.

Another example is that Rhys watches Kesley through her bedroom. He has the neighbor across the street watch Kelsey’s house when he isn’t around. We are even treated to a scene wherein Rhys is sneaking into house and has to stay in her closet while she retires for the night. She begins to pleasure herself and unbeknowst to her Rhys is broadcasting her every movement to the other two guys and they all have a weird orgasmic experience. Yes, Rhys was essentially have phone sex with with friend and the boss.

Jeremy groused out a curse. "If you're going to watch this, you're going to share details. Every one of them."

The tone set Rhys on edge. "Fuck off."

"I helped you get into her house with a phone call and a plan,"

Jeremy argued. "Tucker lent you his key. If such a gorgeous sight is going to fall into your lap, you're going to share with us. Or we won't help you with an exit strategy."

What’s kind of crazy/funny (which I guess is classic Black) about this is that each one of them dom Kelsey including Tucker who a) finds the word pussy offensive and b) can’t imagine spanking Kelsey and objects when Jeremy suggests that he is going to do this once he gets his hands on her because she is torturing him by masturbating in her own bed with her own sex toys whilst Rhys is playing Joe Buck, play by play announcer in her closet.

Of course, the reason that Kelsey is pleasuring herself is she knows that if she takes up an offer from one of the men in her life, she will lose the others and they each bring a unique gift. She gets hugs from Tucker (or nerdlinger as my friend calls him), dominance from Jeremy (who refers to her as “vixen” or “little vixen”), and impetus to be carefree from Rhys (or peeping Tom).

Then without any notice, Rhys and Jeremy lose all patience and Kelsey’s fine principles come to a grinding halt, one by one. Of course, during coitus they do share their “I love yous” to keep this story romantic. When Kelsey is “punished” by Jeremy for having sex with one of the other men without him, she points out the hypocrisy of this. Jeremy excuses himself because all of his other women were short, curvy brunettes with lush figures. It’s okay for him to have fucked other women because they were just substitutes for her!

What is probably worse is that Kelsey goes from having sex with Rhys to having sex with Jeremy to having sex with Tucker all in the space of about five days with NO CONDOMS. In stark contrast, condoms were used in nearly every sex scene in the Banks book except between the long time couple. You even acknowledge that there is no use of condoms and that Kelsey is not on birth control. OY OY OY. I suppose in this fantasy, it is all about the woman getting what she wants but a foursome isn’t really what the others want and the male characters vacillate between having no backbone and dominating her and fighting over her. It didn’t seem that anyone was really happy in this scenario, particularly Tucker who was SHOCKED that anyone would be into BDSM and then couldn’t wield the spanking hand fast enough. C-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

11 Comments

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    Oct 12, 2010 @ 15:36:22

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  2. Maddie
    Oct 12, 2010 @ 17:00:38

    @ Jane I have to agree with you I didn’t care for Black’s story either, her loves scenes came across very clinical and read like one of those dime store x-rated novels, plus didn’t feel the love or the connection that all of them were suppose to feel for each other.

    Also the ending of Black’s book felt kind of skanky and very unrealistic.

  3. Heather
    Oct 12, 2010 @ 18:30:20

    I have to agree with Jane and Maddie. I’m not sure if Shayla’s book fared worse because of Maya’s thoughtful foursome, or if it was simply lacking that special something; I felt like it was more of a “every man for himself” mentality, whereas in Maya’s story the relationships between the men and the woman felt more realistic and lent itself better to the storyline. Shayla’s writing was technically strong, but the story lacked that spark.

  4. Kaetrin
    Oct 12, 2010 @ 18:36:56

    I wouldn’t mind reading the Banks story but I’m not really interested in the Black story. I agree with you Jane – the pubs should offer novellas from an anthology as digital separates so that people can choose the stories they really want.

  5. becca
    Oct 12, 2010 @ 20:52:27

    Isn’t this what Amazon Singles is supposed to address, so you can just buy one short story?

  6. Merrian
    Oct 12, 2010 @ 21:10:32

    I’ve given up on Black. I liked her first book and I agree with Maddies comments. I feel this about her erotica and the paranormals she has written. So it is good if you can get Banks story separately except for those of us who don’t kindle.

  7. Randi
    Oct 13, 2010 @ 12:55:39

    I have to admit, I didn’t pick this up at the bookstore today b/c of the Shayla Black story. Maya is hit or miss for me, but enough hits that I keep on trying. Black, OTOH, well…I think everyone is pretty up on how her stories work out.

    I do wish there had been more authors. It would be been more interesting if it had been an anthology, instead of a duology.

  8. Lindsey
    Oct 13, 2010 @ 15:42:56

    I’m so glad you reviewed this, because I’ve been debating buying it. I’d really hate to buy it just for the Banks story, but it looks like that’s what I’m going to do, because your description of the Black story creeps me the fuck out. I wish I could get them separately.

  9. Jane
    Oct 13, 2010 @ 15:48:34

    @Merrian You can’t get it separately. It was just my suggestion.

  10. Digital Bundles and Anthology Splicing: New ways to deliver old content | Dear Author
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 04:02:03

    [...] separately. (I particularly liked Shannon Stacey’s Holiday Sparks). I recently reviewed The Four Play collection containing a story by Maya Banks and one by Shayla Black. I enjoyed the Maya Banks contribution and [...]

  11. ShellBell
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 12:26:07

    I guess this is one of those occasions where geographical restrictions for eBooks worked in my favour. I am a huge fan of Maya Banks and would have bought Four Play for her story alone but due to GR had to borrow the book from my library. Pillow Talk is one of the few Maya Banks stories that didn’t work for me so I won’t bother buying the eBook if it becomes available for me to purchase from NZ. After the first Chase/Zoe/Dillon scene I expected Chase to start pimping Zoe out. Given that she seems to be enjoying sex with just about anyone as long as Chase is watching, I’m sure they could have earnt a fortune! I would have preferred no Dillon and more working out the actual relationship between Chase/Zoe/Brody/Tate. I haven’t read Shayla Black before and I didn’t read the her story in the anthology.

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