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Monday, October 17, 2011

Red Velvet & Absinthe, edited by Mitzi Szereto

Red Velvet & Absinthe, edited by Mitzt Szereto
Short Stories, 256 pages
September 13th 2011 from Cleis Press

Red Velvet and Absinthe explores love and lust with otherworldly partners who, by their sheer fantastical nature, evoke passion and desire far beyond that which any normal human being can inspire. Although the greats such as Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Daphne du Maurier are long dead, these contemporary authors keep the Gothic spirit alive and well by interpreting it in new and exciting ways. Red Velvet and Absinthe offers readers a collection of unique and original stories that conjure up the atmospheric and romantic spirit of the Gothic masters (and mistresses) but take things a bit further by adding to the brew a generous dosage of eroticism. Lie back and listen to the wind howling outside your window as you read these stories in the flickering light of a candle, the absinthe you’re sipping warming your body like the caressing touch of a lover’s fingers . . .

You never really know what to expect when you go into a collection like this.  Well, I mean you know one thing to expect, but as for the quality of the actual storytelling, it's a gamble.  Fortunately this was a gamble that paid off, because I found myself consistently surprised with the quality of the stories.  Yes, each one revolves around some sort of otherworldly/supernatural (smutty) relationship, but for the most part, it seems like all of the authors chose to focus on layering their stories and injecting as much depth and interestingness to the stories and characters.

A lot of people are put off by short stories, I think (and this used to be true of me) because they don't connect - there's just not enough time, not enough text, and so things end up falling a little flat for them emotionally.  Many times a reader will say of a short story, 'It was good but I wish it was full-length' or 'There just wasn't enough' ... they are left unsatisfied, feeling as if they've just begun when it ends.  But there are a good number of stories in here that I actually found myself connecting to, sometimes rather quickly, and I have to praise that.  One in particular, "Cover him with Darkness" by Janine Ashbless, I found very intriguing and perfectly complete as a short story - I didn't want anything else from it.  I just thought it was really well done, well-suited to the format, and intriguing.  The same is true of "Painted" by Anna Meadows and "Dolly" by Charlotte Stein.  All 3 of these stories are completely different with a different feel, but they all had a completeness to them, and a story I loved following.

One other thing I found interesting and a little unexpected was that the stories that most appealed to me and felt the most interesting and complete (and the least cheesy) were the ones that didn't have to do with vampires or weres.  It's not necessarily that the vamp/were stories were bad, necessarily, but with few exceptions, I found myself caring about them less.  I did really enjoy editor Mitzi Szereto's "The Blood Moon Kiss" which is one of the vamp stories, and is a fun, somewhat tongue in cheek take on vampire culture and a certain popular television show.  But the standouts for me were the unexpected ones: artworks come to life, little wax voodoo dolls that could have been very creepy but were somehow sweet, fallen angels or gods or god-knows-what - there was a nice spread of creativity and world-building throughout the collection that I really appreciated.

The only real drawbacks for me were just things that aren't to my taste.  Romances and dynamics that just don't appeal to me.  (I'm sorry, but I am just not a fan of complete submission, of anyone, to anyone.  Collars and cages - aaaand I'm out.)  But this I think was actually probably a good thing in its own way because it shows that there really is a little something for everyone.

I think the foreward from Kelley Armstrong (yes, that Kelley Armstrong) was a nice surprise that really seemed to get at the heart of the collection and the somewhat gothic feel of the whole thing.  These stories are about atmosphere and Otherness, and amping up the latant sexual tension of the gothic classics into something more palpable.  Really well done.

[Side note: If you're wondering if you want to venture to read a book labeled 'paranormal erotica romance', I would employ the cock-test I used in my review of and Falling, Fly sometime back:  how do you feel about the word 'cock'? If you just cringed, skip this. If you sat up straighter and said 'where?' go out and grab a copy.]

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