_Shadowdance_ by Anne Stuart (someone needs to tell novelists/publishers they are not allowed to use this title for anything ever again. I think I've read three novels with this title already) isn't very good BUT has enough cross-dressing to qualify as Shakespearean. Lady Margery should be classified as a WMD, she kills enough people in this novel. I was unhappy with the depiction of homosexuality and "Araby" in this novel, but it was otherwise entertaining in a fairly stupid way. Another example of why never to go on a daytrip picnic in a romance novel. The weather always turns bad and causes immense difficulties.
The rest of this post would be lucky to get an R-rating. You probably shouldn't be reading this at work.
But now I get to go into vast detail about all the problems in _Colters' Woman_ by Maya Banks. I bought this because it has, get this, a menage a quatre. I mean really, how can you pass _that_ up? While in many ways it reads as porn, it meets the minimalist definition of romance promulgated by RWA (it's primarily about the development of the relationship and has an emotionally satisfying ending, altho more about both of those in a bit). Our heroine runs away from her Mobster (she didn't know. Really. And I think her IQ is about 85) husband on her wedding night so, despite being 24 and apparently good looking and socially competent and not overtly religious, she is still a virgin. Did I mention she's rich? She's not sure how rich, but her parents died some years earlier and left her a trust fund containing fifty or sixty million dollars. Off I go on the first complaint.
I understand that High Net Worth individuals can experience large paper gains in the course of mere minutes not to mention days or years. But not knowing to within 15% your own net worth strikes me as a really hand's off approach to one's portfolio. One way this could be true is if the assets were non-liquid (like a privately held company). But if we assume that, then we have to wonder what company (or companies) that is (those are) and who is running them, none of which information ever comes up in the course of this book. Which is okay BUT there is this little problem. She marries Mobster Mason because she wants someone to take care of her and he shows such concern about her not getting ripped off. I don't know about you, but no one I ever dated asked a whole lot of questions about my financial status once it became clear approximately what it was. And if they had, that would have set off every single fucking alarm bell imaginable. Conversely, a financial advisor took me by the hand one day and said, Dear, I think of you as a daughter, and while I know this is an uncomfortable thing to think about, you really do need to set up a will. I know this guy two floors up. Let's go see him. That struck me as extremely reasonable, and the guy was competent and has since redone the estate planning documents twice (the first time was My Bad -- never name someone whose primary relationship to you is sexual as your executor; you'll just have to pay more money to redo the will; this does NOT include spouses -- marriage is different and anyone who thinks otherwise is Bad Marriage Partner Material; the second time was because I was pregnant).
I tend to assume that if there isn't some reasonable family structure that assures you get stuff done like finding good money people and estate management people, then probably whoever you have as money people, if at all competent, will line up the rest of the crowd over time. If they aren't competent enough to do this for you, then odds on, you won't have the money for long. Which may be the case with our heroine. Whatever explanation one assumes covers what the story presents, one can only conclude that the heroine is an idiot. And probably the novelist has given no thought to the implications of Having a High Net Worth.
Which brings us to point two: No Prenup, and a statement to the effect Thank God She Hadn't Given Mobster Mason access to her accounts. That's just weird. Had she not told her money people (brokers, whatever) that she was getting married? A bit of a lapse, but understandable. But even so, once she did tell them, presumably she would also tell them, oh, by the way, I'm married but he's not allowed to authorize transactions on this account. I mean, why would she do anything else?
Cause she's a moron.
Returning to the tale at hand. I want to know if anyone went back to pick up the mail that Adam dropped in the snow when he picked up Our Heroine. I also want to know where her car was. As near as I can tell, Holly literally dropped out of the sky (might explain the trust fund, actually; she's really an angel!). Our 24 year old virgin Holly meets three brothers whose previous two generations involved polyandry: multiple guys, one woman. Ignoring for the moment the reproductive implications, there's a phone call to Mom and Dad (singular) later in the novel. And there's a reference to Pop. Maybe each father gets a different nickname? Dad? Pop? Papa? Abba? Sure, fine, but then why didn't they call Pop and Abba along with Dad? So there's a continuity problem. The brothers have been told by one of their forebears that they'll "know" the right woman when they meet her and indeed they agree that Holly is Her, and she is freaked out by being simultaneously attracted to all of them. Within twenty-four hours, they are gang banging her: one in her pussy, one in her ass and the third deep throating, with a little carousel of trade around going on throughout the scene.
Yup, our Virgin Holly is one Happy Humping Chick. WTF? She also moans unhappily when her mouth is not filled with cock. Oh brother.
They do use lube when they shove it up her ass, but otherwise, no lube used anywhere else. There is no brother-on-brother action (the possibilities there are really quite twisted). And they use KY. Gack. Fortunately, because there is so much cock looking for orifices, no one is requiring anything that would qualify Holly for FBIA (freakiest bitch in America, for non-Monique fans) like rimming.
Jealousy in our little foursome is minimal, primarily because Holly is so obliging. There is one-on-one action (in the stable -- which made me think Holly spent several days picking splinters out of her back, the shower, even in a bed!), carefully shared out between the three brothers. Adam attempts to organize things at the beginning. His younger brothers tell him it'll be fine without any work put into it and from there on things progress. They all go out on a dinner-dance-date and inevitably they take her shopping a couple of times.
Which brings me back to the money thing. She doesn't cook. She wants to contribute to the household. And yet she does not appear to have so much as a credit card. Weird. Whatever. Maybe she's just sponging off the bros cause she can.
There's a bunch of plot involving Mobster Mason. In the course of this plot, Holly is stabbed and her arm is broken. One of the brothers is shot. You might think this would stop the humping. And, you'd be right. But Holly doesn't stop there. She decides they won't be safe until she testifies against her soon to be ex-husband, which she ultimately does not have to do because he cops a plea and goes to jail (how, exactly, does this render them safe? Oh, for the action approach of just offing the creep). But because at _no point in all that sex_ did anyone use a condom, Holly got pregnant so when she returns three months after the hospitalization for stabbing (when everyone expected her to miscarry), she's got a round belly. There's not many pages left at this point and they agree she'll marry Adam legally and they'll have a ceremony for all four of them. And then they play Monopoly.
Which returns me to the reproductive implications. It seems to me that if you have four people fluid bonded (which is basically the setup here), it's kind of dumb to do it in a way that means everyone has to go without sex for a minimum of a couple months whenever there's a birth. And yet, that's exactly what they've done here, unless the brothers learn to find happiness in each other's whatever, or insist that Holly continue to put out with her available orifices even while juggling a new baby and recovering from childbirth. Which Holly might well do, and at least there are three otherwise unoccupied adults available to help out with child care (they're busy only during the fall during hunting season at the Three Brothers Lodge).
And now, off on a few musings of my own. If I were going to write a menage a quatre (and I don't think I would, mind you, because I've always thought that a triangle is complicated enough), I sure as hell wouldn't set the sex graph up the same way. Two same-sex or opposite-sex couples would be obvious choices, and a fully connected graph of bi or omnisexuals would be a whole lot more interesting. I would _not_ include a virgin in any of it, and I'd be a lot more cautious about what was done to/with a recent rebounder. And there would be no fluid sharing until there'd been a whole lot of fully-clothed discussion and a fair amount of testing. There'd have better lube, weight-bearing eye hooks in the ceiling and, in general, more interesting equipment. A big tub and a shower are all well and good, but with that many employed adults, you should be able to afford some really fun stuff.
While I liked the later Heinlein novels with the huge families, happy humping and baby-making galore, I think any novel set in a contemporary/normal setting (as opposed to alternate universe/fantasy/future/etc.) has to reflect real-world considerations when it comes to reproduction. The relationships involved had better have a lot more going on than sex, because babies interfere with sex. And any relationship structure that involves more than two adults had better have some plan for dealing with the state interfering with reproduction in the interest of the children. It's all well and good to shock a downtown steakhouse by having three brothers dance with one woman. When word gets around that there are three fathers in the house, some jackass neighbor is going to call the cops and anonymously report something negative about the parenting and all of a sudden the Happy Humpers will be trying to get their kids back out of foster care. In this case, the locals are depicted as being generally supportive and it doesn't hurt that the lodge is out in the boonies (a combination that strikes me as mindbogglingly unlikely -- if the gender ratio were inverted, it could be jack mormons, but not with three men and one woman). If I were writing a menage a quatre, I think I would write it with empty-nesters (either of the already-reproduced variety or the never-gonna variety) to avoid the worst of these issues. Alternatively, I'd set it in an alternative/future time/place which was supportive of such arrangements. I think it would be pretty hard to write four Happy Humpers having babies set in our current society, and I think doing it well would put one well outside the romance novel boundaries. OTOH, it would be interesting to do a multi-generational series. The Happy Humpers Get Together. The sequel in which the children of the group find their Own True Love(s). Possibly a book in the middle in which the quartet falls in love with additional partner(s). It would be possible to make the logistical ramifications of living and raising children as a quartet the major obstacle to developing the relationship.
My remaining dilemma with Maya Banks: she writes for Samhain Publishers. That author and that house put out a bunch of books which look like they're weaving together elements of porn and romance novels in very interesting ways. I had a lot of issues with this entry but it got me thinking a lot more than any trashy novel I've read in the last few years (probably not what the author had in mind!). Do I want more? I'm not sure. It wasn't much of a relationship being developed, so not satisfying there. The whole virgin instantly becomes amazingly proficient and willing to do Anything the Boys Want thing tends to really hack me off. OTOH, there are days when I'm past page a hundred in a book and wondering when the two are ever going to get to it, or if this is going to be one of those where I have to be satisfied with less carnal plot elements. It's a tough call.
I lied. I have a bit more to whinge on about. Who is the audience for this? While aspects of the sex sound a lot like a male fantasy (the deep throating in particular), I honestly don't think this is written for a male audience. In a lot of ways, it reads like it's intended to appeal to women who've had one or more partners and done at least a few not-entirely-vanilla things but who are currently with someone who Isn't Doing It For Them or between partners (possibly for long enough to start feeling like a Born Again Virgin). I think the target audience is someone who does not think of herself as particularly kinky (there is a mention of bondage as a possibility, but no indication anyone has ever tried even the tamest of mall-sex-shop fur-lined cuffs) and therefore whose fantasies amount to More Is Better: more sex, more climaxes, more partners, more positions. The weird bit is how little oral/manual action there is on the heroine. Only the penetrative stuff gets scaled up. There's no tie-her-up-and-lick-her-for-hours scene. And a lot of the manual stuff is about how many fingers get poked in where (no fisting -- further indication that the target audience really isn't that kinky), rather than and-then-he-started-spelling-out-I-love-y
If I didn't know better, I'd think this was aimed at particularly dippy young women who really believed that at least other women got pleasure from sucking on dick and swallowing cum, and the real problem with them was that the guys they had been taken advantage of by so far weren't hot enough or there weren't enough of them at once.