Title: Naughty and Nice: A Holiday Romance Collection
Author: Shannon Stacey, Jaci Burton, Megan Hart and Lauren Dane
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Contemporary Erotic Romance
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: December 6, 2010
List Price: $9.99
Blurb: Anthology of four holiday stories ranging from sweet, yet spicy to down and dirty sexy.
Why I chose this title: I’ve read all of these authors at some point, and was intrigued by what they had said about their individual stories on Twitter.
Review: Divided into Nice, with Shannon Stacey’s “Holiday Sparks” and Jaci Burton’s “All She Wants for Christmas”, and Naughty, with Megan Hart’s “Unwrapped” and Lauren Dane’s “Believe”, this was an interesting mix of stories. The Christmas theme ties them all together, but I was even more struck by how closely each story paralleled its partner story. Both of the “Nice” stories have homecoming themes and reconnecting with people from their romantic pasts. In Stacey’s story, the hero, Scott, had a crush on the heroine, Chloe, but she was one of the popular girls and he was one of the geeks, so she didn’t really notice him. He’s turned into a hunk, and now Chloe can’t get him out of her mind. The main conflict for this one was if Chloe was living the life she wanted to in the big city and whether she was willing to return the to the small town she had grown up in. I thought both of the characters acted like grown ups and I enjoyed their interactions. Burton’s entry is the story of a small-town orphan girl made good, big time. Riley Jensen, superstar country musician has been forced by her agent into participating in a biography special of her life, and returns to the town she fled at 18 after discovering her boyfriend in bed with her best friend. As she’s greeted by the crowd of well-wishers, one of the first people she is confronted with is a cute little 7-year-old girl, who turns out to be the daughter of the couple of who drove her out of town. With the past slapping her in the face, Riley chooses to confront it head on. Burton shows the growth of the couple with a deft hand. The “Naughty” entries are sufficiently naughty. Both stories are continuations of previously written about couples, both of whom engage in varying levels of kink in their sex lives. Hart’s “Unwrapped” follows the couple she introduced in the Black Lace novels she co-wrote with Dane. This is their first Christmas together as a married couple and are contemplating decisions for the future, including children, and how those decisions may impact the life they choose to lead. While I am familiar with this couple, I haven’t finished either of the previous novels. I found this to be a story to easily fall into without needing much of the previous background. Dane chose to explore another couple from her past. This one I have no experience with, and I felt as if there was a bit much infodumping in regards to the characters’ background in the dialogue. I think this is a frequent issue when writing a follow-up short story to a previous novel: how to balance the necessary background so new readers can enjoy the story as much as established readers. While in Hart’s story, the D/s play is just that, in Dane’s story, those roles are much more integral to the characters. As someone who rarely finds D/s stories enjoyable, I thought Dane did a fabulous job showing how this couple balanced this aspect of their identities, and how each desired to give both emotional, as well as sexual, pleasure to their partner in all parts of their relationship. Dane’s couple also is struggling with decisions about the future and how they may impact the relationship. Overall, I found the couples in all of the stories to be likeable and I enjoyed spending time in their worlds. If you’re purchasing, each of the stories are apparently available for individual purchase, so if you don’t enjoy erotic romance, or are only looking for erotic romance, that may be your better bet rather than purchasing the anthology.
Final thought: A perfect sampler of four of Carina Press’ popular authors in their milieus.