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REVIEW: Three to Tango by Lauren Dane, Megan Hart, Emma Holly and Bethany Kane

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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REVIEW: Selfish is the Heart by Megan Hart

REVIEW: Selfish is the Heart by Megan Hart

Dear Ms. Hart,

Selfish is the Heart is the third book in your Order of Solace series, and I was not sure what to expect of it given how widely my responses to your two earlier works in this series differed. I gave Pleasure and Purpose an A- review, and No Greater Pleasure a DNF grade.

Selfish is the Heart by Megan HartThree things convinced me to give Selfish is the Heart a try despite my disappointment in No Greater Pleasure. The first was my love for Pleasure and Purpose, the second a comment by a reader, Joanne, stating that she'd heard that No Greater Pleasure was written years before Pleasure and Purpose, and the third the description of Selfish is the Heart which I read on Amazon and which intrigued me greatly.

The national bestselling author of No Greater Pleasure delivers a new novel featuring a reluctant student of seduction.

To escape an arranged marriage, Annalise Marony decides to become a Handmaiden of the Order of Solace. But she is thwarted at every turn by Cassian, a teacher of the faith, who must test her dedication. Older than most of the girls, Annalise knows that she will be expected to please a patron in pleasures of the flesh-and she is not shy about teasing Cassian. And as they both play out the game of master and student, the secrets in their souls will either tear them apart-or bind them together forever.

My attention was captured by this and I anticipated this book with excitement, but unfortunately the first ten chapters did not live up to the description above (more on that later), and I stopped reading at page 125 (of 307 pages).

Readers of the two earlier books in this series know that the books take place in a fantastical setting. By fantastical I don't mean there is a lot of magic or strange creatures, just that the world is a fictional one. It is somewhat reminiscent of 19th century Europe, although its religion is quite different. Here is a description of that faith, taken from my review of Pleasure and Purpose.

It is the prevailing religious belief that each time a soul finds perfect solace, even if only for a moment, an arrow appears in the god Sinder's quiver. According to legend -’ and many people's faith -’ when the quiver is full, Sinder, his wife and his son, The Holy Family, will reunite, bringing peace and harmony to mankind.

To that end, the Order of Solace was created. The women who enter the order, called handmaidens, make it their task to bring solace to the patrons who engage their services. Sometimes doing that involves sex, but there is more to it than that. To give an idea of the handmaidens' outlook, here are the five principles which comprise the tenets of the Order of Solace's philosophy:

“1. There is no greater pleasure than providing absolute solace.
2. True patience is its own reward.
3. A flower is made more beautiful by its thorns.
4. Selfish is the heart that thinks first of itself.
5. Women we begin and women we shall end.”

Most of the women who enter the Order of Solace do so out of true faith, but Annalise Marony is different. Although her mother is deeply religious, Annalise herself is not, but she is trapped in an engagement she agreed to but later changed her mind about. Annalise's fiancé, Jaquin, is a childhood friend she has a lot of affection for, but he is not attracted to her – or to any woman. Jaquin is gay.

In order to escape marriage to Jaquin in a way that won't bring dishonor to either of them, Annalise pretends to have a vision that leads her to join the order and train to become a handmaiden. She plans to stay a student without ever graduating, since she has no interest in catering to the whims of patrons.

On Annalise's arrival at a forest near the Order's motherhouse, she is given misleading directions by a man. She does not realize right away that this is a test of her dedication. When she finally arrives at the motherhouse, Annalise encounters the same man again. He is Cassian, one of the few men who live in the motherhouse, and he is a priest and instructor there.

An attraction develops between Annalise and Cassian, but Cassian refuses to acknowledge those feelings. Cassian has divorced himself from other people emotionally, and cut himself off from their affection for reasons that aren't made fully clear in the section I read. But as Annalise and Cassian encounter each other again and again, they get under one another's skin. Will Annalise thaw Cassian's heart? Will she come to respect the faith she disdains? Will the two admit their feelings and will they find solace?

I did not read far enough in this book to find out the answer to most of these questions, for the following reasons.

My feelings on Annalise were mixed; she was not instantly sympathetic to me, but not immediately unsympathetic either. Her disdain for the beliefs held by her fellow novitiates at the motherhouse did not appeal to me; even though I find the tenets of the Order of Solace's faith antifeminist, I still didn't enjoy seeing the novitiates' honest and profound devotion scorned.

Still, this unappealing aspect of Annalise's character was somewhat mitigated by her kindness to Tansy, her sweet, younger roommate, and her affection for Jaquin, her fiancé, despite the fact that he had no romantic or sexual feelings for her.

But as the novel proceeded, I found myself less and less interested in Annalise. Perhaps the problem there was that she was simply too ordinary, and lacked some of what I think of as the sheen of romantic glamour that I feel most romance protagonists (including many of your own main characters) possess.

I also felt that in the portion of the book that I read, Annalise did not face any deep internal conflict or strong external obstacle to make her compelling. Perhaps that changes later in the book, but if it does, I didn't get far enough into the story to know about it.

Cassian was more immediately interesting, especially when he was first introduced. It was evident from early on that he had walled himself off from the rest of humanity, and I was curious at first as to the reason he had closed himself so completely to warmth and affection.

Unfortunately, by the time I stopped reading, some hints had been given about that, but the answer was not yet revealed. And in the meantime, while waiting to learn the reasons for Cassian's coldness, I became frustrated with it because I wanted to see more of a relationship develop between him and Annalise.

Having read several of your works, I know better than to count on feeling instant sympathy for the main characters, and I believe I might have still enjoyed the book even so, had the story unfolded with more narrative drive. But the book's pacing was sedate and slow, and as it continued there was too little interesting new information revealed about the characters and their situation.

A third problem for me may have been one of expectations. The book description posted on Amazon states that Annalise is "thwarted at every turn by Cassian, a teacher of the faith, who must test her dedication." This conveys a strong conflict that did not materialize fully enough in the first ten chapters to entice me to keep reading.

After reading that description, I had the impression that Cassian would be testing and thwarting Annalise left and right, and given that Annalise was also described as "a reluctant student of seduction" and that most of the earlier Hart books I'd read were erotic, I also expected some of those tests to be sexual. In the first 125 pages, at least, that was not the case. The only sex scene in that portion of the novel was brief, and it was not between Annalise and Cassian.

Annalise and Cassian's scenes consisted mainly of squabbles in the religion classroom that did not seem to me to give the story much momentum. There were also many scenes of Annalise and Tansy's friendship, and while I liked Tansy's sweetness, these didn't move the story forward much either. Cassian's scenes with a young boy in need of an adult male's attention were a bit more interesting.

Admittedly, I am a reader with a short attention span and when a book is paced slowly and lacks a strong enough conflict to engage me, my reading speed, which is slow to begin with, lags to a turtle's pace. That was what happened with this book, and so, at the end of chapter ten, I stopped reading and decided that this particular book was just not for me.

I am not happy to give another of the books in this series a DNF grade, especially when I loved Pleasure and Purpose so much. I do hope that other readers enjoy the book more than I did.


Janine Ballard

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