Ladies Only Anthology
By Cari Z, Helena Maeve, R.A. Padmos, HK Carlton, and Lucy Felthouse
Pride Publishing, 2016
Ladies Only is a new lesbian erotic romance anthology from Pride Publishing. I requested a review copy when I saw a post about it on HK Carlton’s blog. The authors featured in the book include some of my favorites (including HK), plus I was delighted to see Pride putting out some F/F fiction.
The book includes five tales in the 10-15K word range. (Overall the PDF version is 205 pages.) Each one focuses on the relationship between two women.
The heroine in “Worth a Shot” by Cari Z has a lucrative business detailing racing cars. Samara dreads the idea of getting a housemate to occupy the other side of her duplex, but when Katie shows up, the young woman seems a perfect fit. Katie and Sam have lots in common—including a strong mutual attraction. As they grow closer, Sam starts imagining they might build a life together. However, Katie’s past is full of secrets. An innocent error on Sam’s part exposes them both to danger and tears them apart, apparently forever.
In “The Woman Next Door” by Helena Maeve, an artist confronts the neighbor whose noisy renovation is preventing her from working, only to discover that the occupant of the condo next door is an old enemy. Eight years before, Yvonne Barros destroyed Ziva’s business and brought Ziva close to bankruptcy. There’s no way Ziva wants her as a neighbor. However, Yvonne has suffered her own reversals. The elegant executive seems to have changed, and to want Ziva as a friend—and more. Ziva’s equally drawn to her nemesis. But can the woman who ruined her once be trusted not to do it again?
R.A. Padmos’ “The Tiny Blue House” is a luscious lesbian fable about love, loss, and wonderful food. Young chef Molly Knowles roams the country in her mobile home, working in kitchens, picking up new recipes, and enjoying the women she meets along the way. When she experiences the cooking of Chiara Loss, it’s love at first taste.
HK Carlton’s “In the Flesh” offers a gritty tale of exotic dancers, mob bosses and undercover cops. ATF officer Kate infiltrates a skin club run by the Traviano crime family, posing as a dancer. She falls hard for Carly, a stunningly talented stripper who’s linked to the mob boss’s son. In a world where the slightest mistake can be deadly, Kate struggles to do her job without giving up her incendiary relationship with Carly.
In “Window Dressing”, Lucy Felthouse creates a feisty young woman who is building a career as a shop-fitter. Jessie is sent from Leeds to London to create an elaborate display for an Oxford Street shop. It’s the most important job she’s ever undertaken—and it’s being supervised by a woman with a legendary reputation for being critical and nasty. At first, Edith lives up to the stories about her dragon-like personality, but as the long night wears on, Jessie gets to see another side of the dragon lady. She finds that Edith is a woman with strong desires—and those desires include Jessie herself.
Overall, Ladies Only is a very enjoyable book. The quality of the writing is uniformly high, while the styles of the authors are sufficiently diverse that I didn’t get bored. I particularly liked the slightly fairy-tale quality of R.A. Padmos’ tale. She creates a happily-ever-after world where you find yourself exactly where you’re supposed to be: in seaside town where a long-time lesbian couple has the ideal spot for parking your trailer, and where your soul mate works in the kitchen.
HK Carlton’s story features wonderfully intense sex scenes. “In the Flesh” captures the sensual quality of dancing and reflects my personal experience that dancing is often the first step toward making love. Actually, I found the plot in this story rather implausible. However, the chemistry between Kate and Carly more or less distracted me from that weakness.
The characters in the other three stories pulled me in, especially Ziva. I loved the portrayal of her artistic talent, the fact that she never knows what she’ll paint until she’s standing in front of the canvas. To be honest, however, I found the erotic aspects of these three stories a bit perfunctory and unconvincing. Compared to other lesbian erotic romance I’ve read, these stories seemed a bit thin.
One reason for this, I think, is the rather awkward length of the stories in the collection. They’re neither true short stories nor novellas, but something in between. Too long to have the stunning immediacy of a vignette, they’re still too brief to really explore the development of an emotional and sexual relationship. I’ve encountered the frustrations of this length myself. More than once reviewers have commented on what seemed like abrupt endings in my 15K stories. The fact is, I more or less ran out of word count.
In any case, I’m delighted to see Pride Publishing releasing more lesbian fiction. Ladies Only is a solid collection which I think may be particularly appropriate for readers of other romance subgenres who are curious about F/F relationships. There’s nothing scary or foreign here—just pairs of women who fall in love, like anyone else.