Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sneak PeeK: Purr M for Murder by T.C. LoTempio (#mystery #feline #giveaway)

Purr M cover


Sydney McCall left behind an ex-fiancé and a New York advertising job to return home to Deer Park, North Carolina and help her sister, Kat, run the local animal shelter, Friendly Paws. Determined to save the shelter from financial trouble, Sydney and Kat organize a cat café fundraising event at a local coffee shop. Things are looking up until their landlord, Trowbridge Littleton, threatens to shut down the event. When Sydney drops by his art gallery to make peace, she finds Kat--along with Littleton's dead body.

Local homicide detective Will Worthington--who just happens to be Sydney's old high school crush--is highly suspicious of the sisters' involvement. Desperate to clear their names from the suspect list, Sydney pounces on the investigation. With the help of one of the shelter cats, a savvy orange tabby named Toby, Sydney begins poking her nose into other local businesses whose owners may have benefited from Littleton's death--until the killer notices she's pawing a little too closely at the truth.


We were in the doorway now. A large desk was at the far end of what appeared to be an office. The light was coming from a small lamp perched on the edge of the desk, and as we crossed the threshold, it flickered and then went out. Kat shone the pencil thin beam of the flashlight around the room, letting out a sharp cry as it hit the wall nearest us. “Lightswitch,” she squealed, and a minute later the room was filled with a harsh fluorescent light.

I glanced around. Yes, this was definitely an office, and not a very tidy one at that. There were several file cabinets pushed up against the far wall, and two of the drawers in the one on the left were half open. Papers were strewn across the desk, and some file folders had dropped onto the floor and were scattered across the Oriental rug.

Good Lord,” my sister exclaimed. “For someone always so fastidious about his appearance, he certainly likes to work in a mess.”

I frowned. “It looks more to me like it’s been ransacked. Someone was searching for something. What do you think, Kat? Kat?”

My sister had moved over to the far corner of the room and was standing before a large wardrobe. “Wow, this is beautiful,” she said, lifting a hand to run it over the smooth exterior. She balled her hand into a fist and rapped it against the wood. “Solid oak. I saw a picture of one like this in a catalog. French, dates back to the late 1800’s. I wonder what it’s doing in his office?”

Who knows? Maybe he keeps his suit jackets in it,” I said. “Why do you care, anyway?”

It’s such a beautiful piece,” my sister murmured. “Too good for that rotter. It seems out of place in this office.”

Maybe it just came in and he’s got it here for pricing,” I ventured.

Maybe. I wouldn’t mind having something like this,” Kat said, running her hand once again across the smooth wood. “It looks deep enough – I wonder if the doors swing out all the way? It would be great to put a TV in.”

I eyed the piece. “That thing looks hand-carved. He probably wants an arm and a leg for it.”

Probably.” She gave the handle a tug. “Hm. The doors seem to be stuck.”

I waved my hand impatiently. “Oh for goodness sakes, leave it alone. Must you examine it now?”

Her lower lip thrust forward. “Yes. Who knows, I might not get another chance.”

I shot her a sharp look. “You’re not thinking of buying this, are you?”

She sighed deeply. “I suppose not. Littleton will probably want some astronomical figure for it. But I might never get another opportunity to see such a finely made one up close.” She shot me an appealing look. “Give me a hand, won’t you? You’re strong. Maybe if we both pull on the handle at the same time it’ll open.”

I knew my sister. Once Kat made up her mind about something she was like a pitbull with a bone. I knew when it was futile to argue with her. “Okay, fine. But if we get this open, one quick look and then we’re out of here.”

She nodded and I placed my hand on top of hers. “On the count of three, give it all you’ve got. One, two—three.”

We both tugged at the same time and suddenly the door flew open. We went staggering backwards at the same time the body of Trowbridge Littleton, his eyes bulging almost out of their sockets, tongue lolling to the side, hit the floor at our feet.

About the Author

While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic. She (and ROCCO, albeit he’s uncredited) pen the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime – the first volume, MEOW IF ITS MURDER, debuted Dec. 2, 2014. Followed by #2, CLAWS FOR ALARM. #3, CRIME AND CATNIP, is out this December. She, Rocco and Maxx make their home in Clifton, New Jersey, just twenty minutes from the Big Apple – New York. Catch up with them at www.tclotempio.com and www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com

Where to find them:

Rocco’s blog:




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Monday, February 27, 2017

A Jukebox in My Head (#singing #lyrics #poetry)


I love my kitchen. And it's not just due to the ample storage and counter space, or the Italian four burner gas stove my landlord installed when we moved in. The wall behind the double sink, under the overhanging cabinets, is ceramic tile - easy to clean, indeed, but better still, offering great acoustics.

When I'm washing the dishes, I sing. I always have. As kids, my brother and I were responsible for this task. We used to sing duets, while I scrubbed and he dried or vice versa. I remember teaching him the first and only song I ever wrote (a romantic ballad entitled "I'm Crying") while tackling some particularly stubborn spaghetti sauce. He's a professional song-writer now; he tells me I inspired him.

My musical opus reduces to that single tune (which I can still sing), although I've penned lots of poetry, which is music of a sort. Unlike my brother, I don't play any instruments, but I have a prodigious memory for lyrics, and to a lesser extent melodies. As a teenager, I dropped piano lessons partly because I never learned to sight read music. After playing a piece two or three times, I didn't need to read it. By the time I got to more complicated compositions, this talent had become a liability.

Anyway, singing in my current kitchen is akin to singing in the shower - better, because I don't need to worry about getting soapy water in my mouth. The wall and the underside of the cabinet create a resonance chamber. My voice sounds rich and full as I belt out my favorite tunes.

Isn't this rich?
Aren't we a pair?
Me with my feet on the ground,
You in the air...


You want to know
How it will be:
Me and him
Or you and me.


The blonde in the bleachers,
She flips her hair for you.
Above the loud speakers
You start to fall...


The minute you walked in the joint,
I could tell you were a man of distinction,
A real big spender...


Why don't you come to your senses?
You've been out riding fences
For so long...

Unlike nearly everyone else these days, I don't go around with wires sprouting from my ears. I do have a stash of music on my phone, but I play it only when I exercise. Nonetheless my mind hosts an extensive and rather eclectic mental play list. Torch songs from the nineteen forties, folk ballads from the sixties, musicals and G&S operettas, classic rock, blues - I sing them all. It's difficult to sing rock and roll - you need the voices of the instruments as well as the vocalists. But I try.

There are many songs that speak to me, about love and sex, time and loss, risk and reward: Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window", Meatloaf's "Anything For Love", Bob Seger's "Night Moves", Bruce Springstein's "Thunder Road":

Have a little faith, there's magic in the night.
You ain't a beauty but hey, you're all right
And that's all right with me.

I used to have a decent singing voice. I sang in my high school chorus, even auditioned for a state-wide choir. My siblings and I won second place on a TV talent show, doing a harmonized version of the Beatles' "Misery". I've always been an alto. Now my voice seems to have become lower and more gravelly with age. It's more difficult for me to follow a complex tune these days too. The words are still there, though, and when I'm singing to the kitchen wall, I sound great.

Lots of authors report that they listen to music while they write. Not me. I'm such a word girl that the lyrics will distract me from my own sentences. Even now, trying to pen this blog post, the songs I've quoted are ringing in my mind, clamoring for my attention.

Our love is an old love, baby.
It's older than all our years.
I've seen in strange young eyes
Familiar tears.

I'd better stop. I feel as though it's cheating to fill up my blog post with lines and rhymes of other people. I could do it, though - without doing a single Google look-up for the lyrics.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Get ready for the British Bad Boys! (#preorder #brit #giveaway)

British Bad Boys cover

The British Bad Boys are coming— and you will be, too!

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Featuring stories from Marissa Farrar, Lucy Felthouse, Tabitha Rayne, Lexie Bay, Lily Harlem, Victoria Blisse and K D Grace.

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2lq2k3t

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

What I said and how I said it (#fantasy #language #giveaway @DMcClure17)

Grant Scotland series

By Dan McClure (Guest Blogger)

You’re never going to be understood by everyone all of the time, let’s just get that out of the way right now. And of the ones that understand you, only about half of them are going to like what you say, if you’re lucky. And of those people, only a fraction are ever going to be bothered to let you know what they think about what you have to say. So, of everyone who could possibly ever leave you a review of your writing, only one half of one half of a fraction of a percent will ever do it. Don’t bother checking that math. I’m pretty sure it’s right.

So, my point is that I’m grateful for every review I get. I never comment on any of them. It’s your review and you have every right to express your opinion about my work. After all, I released it to the public with the very expectation that some would love it, some would hate it and most would be somewhere in between (hopefully more on the love side, of course).

Some critical reviews will be silly but some will raise some interesting topics to think about. Take for instance a point one reviewer raised in one of my Goodreads reviews. She seemed to like the book, mind you, so it wasn’t a bad review, just a “meh” one. She said the one thing that distracted her was my use of the “modern voice” in a fantasy setting. I fully respect her tastes and understand that my narrative voice isn’t for everyone, so I have no problem with her review. Her observation does, however, raise a point that has always bothered me about fantasy literature; the conspicuously uniform narrative style used by most fantasy authors.

The ones I grew up reading, as well as many today, like to use a late 19th century American or Victorian voice for most narration and then throw in a smattering of Elizabethan terms during dialog to achieve some sort of pseudo-medieval… errrm… sound, I guess? And this is somehow supposed to be the “authentic” fantasy voice? I’m not sure why this is so or how it got started (might be a fascinating thesis paper for all you English Lit majors) but it isn’t at all an actual medieval voice. First of all, such a voice would be called “Middle English” and second of all it is utterly impenetrable. Have you ever read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in its original text? I have. It’s a foreign fucking language.

So, to me the use of narrative voice for fantasy books has always seemed to be up to the author’s whim. This is as it should be. It’s a fantasy world, after all. It isn’t historical fiction. Even if it was, a reader couldn’t read an authentic voice from classical/dark/medieval ages. We can barely read texts from Shakespeare’s day. Know why we can read texts from Shakespeare’s day and not before? It’s because he invented the language we speak today. It’s called “Modern English.” OK, maybe he didn’t invent it, but he was the first author of his generation (that I know of, anyway – literature was never my focus) to write how people actually talked.

After him, you can largely trace the great writers of following generations because they also bothered to write how people actually lived and spoke in their own times. In our current generation, it’s impossible for me to say for certain at this point. Maybe that’s too difficult a task to accomplish for your own generation. Maybe that’s a question for the ages. But, if I could switch mediums simply to illustrate a point, I might say Quentin Tarantino would be a good example in film/screenwriting. But, please, don’t tell him I compared him to Shakespeare. His head is big enough as it is.

In his writing, we see an honest approach to conveying how people in our everyday lives live and speak. Even if these people are heroes and villains of extraordinary proportions, they still engage in the same common struggles and conversations as the rest of us. Hitmen discuss the vagaries of human relationships, a man and a woman deflect sexual tension by talking about the price of a milkshake, etc. Great authors, in my opinion, invite everyone into their writing by mirroring the way they perceive the people around them talking and acting everyday. It’s the people who are alive you have to talk to, not the dead ones.

I guess that’s one reason why I chose such a “modern voice” for my Grant Scotland novels. Another reason was simply as an homage to noir detective novels. I realize it won’t be a voice everyone will be drawn to, but I’m hoping it will help more people, authors and readers alike, realize that there is no “authentic” fantasy voice. The only authentic voice is your own.

Spy for a Dead Empire
(Adventures of Grant Scotland, Book One)

AELFA, THE GRAND CAPITAL of the once mighty Aelfan Empire, has fallen. Barbarian war parties and nomadic tribes harass the retreating and broken legions that once overawed them. All that stands against them now is the city of Zyren, the last bastion of Aelfan rule.

Acting as a spy for Zyren is Grant Scotland, a man leading a double life because his own had been taken away from him by the very people he serves. An unwilling recruit into the business of clandestine missions and deceit, he searches for anything real to cling to as the world around him devolves into insanity. And when an old friend shows up asking him to help save his family by delivering a mysterious book to a shadowy figure, Grant's two lives collide and he is thrust into an even stranger world than he had known; one where ancient magic is wielded by deadly players who compete against one another for a prize greater than simply the rotting carcass of a dead empire.

Spy for a Troubled King
(Adventures of Grant Scotland, Book Two)

AMONG THE ASHES of the mighty Aelfan Empire, the House of Gregyan seeks to forge a new kingdom—one where both Huthan and Aelfan alike can prosper. But old prejudices and ancient traditions and an exiled enemy threaten the peace. Caught between compassion for his home and allegiance to his fallen empire, Grant Scotland finds himself trapped in the turbulent machinations of enemies and friends. As he works to uncover mysteries about his father’s treachery and confront new threats to his future, he moves perilously close to revealing his identity and losing everything.

Spy for a Wayward Daughter
(Adventures of Grant Scotland, Book Three)

AS THE GREGYANS MARCH TO WAR and his handler takes a trip to Zyren, Grant Scotland, spy errant of the Aelfan Empire, gets ready to pursue a lead on finding a man who might be able to tell him the truth about his father's treason. Old friends, new enemies and hidden dangers soon confront him on his quest, but when he enters the dark world of another family's intrigue, he finds that not even the frontiers of the Aelfan Empire are far enough away to escape the dangers of fortune and fate. 


Spy for a Greedy Villain
(Adventures of Grant Scotland, Book Four)

RACIAL TENSIONS IN AELFA simmer and threaten to boil over when the harbormaster is found dead and the Huthan oppressors threaten to crack down in the Lower Docks. As Grant Scotland finds more questions than answers in the journals of Berthul Magnussen about his father’s treachery, he is drawn into a murder investigation, a kidnapping plot and the nefarious machinations of the city’s biggest crime lord—Mr. Quinn. In order to stop Quinn’s plans and save the city from being thrown into open revolt, Grant prepares to take his biggest gamble yet.

The Unlikely Spy
(Adventures of Grant Scotland, Volume One)

The Adventures of Grant Scotland series is an entertaining mix of fantasy, mystery and espionage featuring a hero whose many faults provide almost as much challenge to him as the formidable obstacles he must face as he attempts to impose sanity upon a world rapidly descending into chaos. Collected in this volume are the first three books in the series: Spy for a Dead Empire, Spy for a Troubled King and Spy for a Wayward Daughter.


From Spy for a Greedy Villain (Adventures of Grant Scotland, Book Four)

I gave him a brief recap of my espionage activities over the past few months, which included reports on the growth and temperament of the One God followers, the coming and going of any Huthan notables and the operations of Doogan and Quinn. At last I followed up with a summary of the harbormaster investigation and finished with the discovery of a ghost in the Lower Docks.

There’s no such things as ghosts, Scotland.”

I know, but I haven’t worked up a better nickname for him yet.”

I’m sure you’ll think of something. I have every confidence in your ability to accomplish inane tasks of trivial importance.”

Everybody has to be good at something.”

And while your limited mental capabilities will no doubt be severely taxed in that endeavor, I’ll do some checking into what could make a man entirely concealed in plain sight.”

You mean invisible. You can just say invisible.”

Were I interested in being as lacking in attention to details as you, I could use the word invisible, but luckily for the both of us I am not. Complete invisibility is impossible. Not even the greatest Aelfan wizards were ever able to accomplish such a feat. But, there are several ways a man can remain unnoticed. Take me for instance. For the eleventh time in a row you failed to spot me before I spotted you.”

How am I not surprised you’ve been keeping score? At any rate, he didn’t sneak up on me, I’m telling you I looked right through him.”

Except his boots. Unless in addition to invisibility you also believe in the existence of a sentient pair of boots?”

About Dan

Writing stories infused with the smoky charisma of classic film noir mixed with the pulse-pounding excitement of adventure fantasy and the cagey class of suspenseful espionage, Dan McClure brought the best parts of all of our most cherished pulp together and added his own signature brand of wit. He currently lives, writes and works in and around beautiful and historic Arlington, Massachusetts.

I can be reached at 
dmcclure17 [at] hotmail [dot] com.

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Buy Link: Amazon

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (#civilrights #sixties #literaryfiction)

Serpents and Doves cover

By G. Lloyd Helm (Guest Blogger)

My latest book is a literary novel called Serpents and Doves. It is a book that took forty years to write. It is about my college experience in the mid-1960's. It is fiction but, as with all decent fiction, it has a lot of the author in it. The title comes from the new testament Book of Matthew. When Jesus was first sending out the disciples out to preach he said, "I send you out as sheep among wolves, therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves." The novel is about learning what that really means and about finding wolves in places where there should be sheep.

The mid-1960's were tumultuous. The Vietnam war was the background for everything though it was easy to forget that in the midst of the sexual revolution, but the two--sexual revolution and war -- mixed in the midst of protests. Add in some civil rights protests and there is more confusion and more spice.

I was in the middle of much of the protesting, not so much the war as the civil rights protests. I had many black friends. I had never experienced that in my pre-college days, but when I got to college I met many great young men who were all caught up in Dr. King's Civil Rights movement and those friendships pulled me right along into the movement as well. I was not a major player, more around the edges, which put me in a position to observe.

That of course is what writers do. We observe then shape and record what we see. My recording/shaping took a long time. I wrote more than a thousand pages before I really began on Serpents and Doves. I just couldn't get hold of a starting thread.

I think that is among the hardest thing any writer can do. The old chestnut about fearing the blank page is absolutely true, but from a different angle than most people think. Most writers when they sit down to write have some idea of what they are going to write, but finding that first thread to begin weaving the whole cloth of the story, that is hard.

I have found that thread for other books and written five including a volume of short stories, but Serpents and Doves was particularly difficult, perhaps because it is so close to my own life. I had to get my mind around how to present the happenings of my life without libeling any of the people therein. That's why, if anyone who knew me in those years should read the book, they are likely to recognize some of the characters with different names and slightly filed off serial numbers.

My life since college has been interesting. I have traveled around the world with my wife and children having lived in Spain, Germany and Italy as well as Virginia, Indiana, and California. A novel set in Indiana is probably coming down the pike. I am making notes and considering things right now but it will get written if I live long enough. Right at the moment I am concentrating on short stories and criticism as well as selling books around Southern California.


The mid-sixties were turbulent: the Vietnam War, Protests, the Civil Rights movement, and the Sexual Revolution. Stephen Mitchell, a naive California church boy, goes off to school at a small church college in Tennessee, where he learns about sex, betrayal, friendship, and what it really means to be black in the segregated south.


The cop bent down a bit more and looked at Stephen. “Whose yer uncle boy,” the cop asked.

Rev, Paul Clark sir, West Side Cumberland Church,” Stephen said.

West Side, eh? He one of them integration preachers?”

Stephen was stunned and he didn’t know how to answer. If he lied and said no the cop was gonna wonder why this single white boy as riding with these coloreds, and if he said yes the cop might decide to make life tough for all of them.

Well sir,” Stephen began, “He’s just, Uh. I’m going there to help him serve Thanksgiving to some college students.”

The cop didn’t like the answer. He blinked at them, rain running off the patent leather bill of his cap and said, “I think maybe ya’ll better step on out of the car here,” he said.

But officer,” Stephen began and Robert knocked his knee against Stephen’s, clearly saying shut up.

Yes Sir,” Charlie Horse said as he opened his door. The other doors opened and the young men stepped out. Stephen was boiling, but he kept his mouth shut.

Ya’ll just go ‘head and lean up on the side of the car,” the cop said. All the black men did as they were told, assuming the position, but Stephen once more protested. “We didn’t do anything. We were just driving down the road.”

The cop did a step through and dropped Stephen to the hard concrete of the sidewalk on his face. “Don’t you sass me boy, I am the PO-lice and when I say do something you do it.”

Stephen was stunned and his nose was bleeding from being bounced on the concrete. The cop had a knee in the middle of his back and was patting him down looking for weapons, and as the hands went roughly over Stephen’s sides one thought kept rolling through his mind, but, I’m white. I’m white, I’m white.

Now you just stay right here boy,” the cop said “while I check your friends for guns.”

Pat them niggers down too, Buford.” He said. “I’m ‘ona search the car.”

Buford stepped up to Reg and Bobby and ran is hands perfunctorily down their sides then made a point of jamming his hand hard between their legs. Both men winced, but didn’t take their hands off the roof of the car.

The first cop, half crawled in the still open doors or the car, turned off the engine and pulled out the keys to go and open the trunk, meantime Buford had searched Charlie, Silent Al, and Stan, giving them the same final squeeze of their testicles. They all stood tight.

OK Frank” Buford said, “They clean.”

Frank came back to Stephen who had done as he had been told and not moved. There was a growing puddle of watery blood forming where his nose had dripped to the concrete. Frank poked his toe into Stephen’s ribs, hard enough to hurt, but not break anything. “Ya oughtenta hang around with niggers boy. It could get ya killed.”

Stephen didn’t say anything. The litany of race kept running through his mind, I’m white, I’m white, I’m white.

All Right ya’ll,” Frank said. He bent down and hauled Stephen up by the collar. “Get on outa here. But don’t you let the sun set on you in this neighborhood.” He tossed the keys at Charlie.

Yes sir,” Charlie Horse said. Everyone got into the car. Charlie hit the starter and the engine turned and turned, but didn’t catch. He let the button go then cranked it again. This time the engine coughed, stubborn because of the wet. He hit it again, the engine coughed again and caught. After he let it run for a moment he slowly pulled away from the curb watching the two cops in the rear view mirror. After a moment he glanced at Stephen in the mirror. “You alright Steve?”

Yeah,” Stephen said, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and holding it against his nose.

Is it broke?” Robert asked

Serve you right it is,” Stan said. “Dumb fuck! Mouth off to a cop.”

Yeah, yeah,” Stephen said. The front of his rain coat was stained with blood. “But we didn’t do anything!”

Just like we told ya. Driving while Black, and especially with a honky in the car.” Reg said. “We damn lucky he didn’t decide we were agitators or something. Would have jailed us sure or maybe shot us, but he just decided he’d settle for just hoorahing some niggers.”

Stephen sighed and said, “I’m sorry fellas, I didn’t know—“

Robert said, “Yes you did know, because we told you, but now you don’t just know. Now you understand.”

Buy Links



About the Author

G. Lloyd Helm writes fantasy but fantasy of a different type. In his work people have to power to stop war by simply saying “stop” and to change the universe by belief in a system called “the design.”
Helm has been writing for more than forty years, short stories and three novels. He is currently working on a sequel to his first novel OTHER DOORS. His work harks back to the classic fantasy of the golden age but is as modern as the war in Afghanistan.

G. Lloyd has traveled the world spending ten years in Europe, living in Spain, Germany, and Italy with his wife of forty years. His epitaph will no doubt read, "Ne're do well scribbler, and part time genius. He married Well."

Amazon Author Page



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review Tuesday: White Flames by Cecilia Tan (#erotica #fantasy #lgbtq)

White Flames cover

White Flames: Erotic Dreams by Cecilia Tan
Running Press, 2008
ISBN 978-0-78672-080-4

Hallelujah! That was my cry after reading the first two stories in Cecilia Tan's single-author collection WHITE FLAMES. Needless to say, my husband, reading in bed next to me, was a bit startled. When I explained, though, he understood completely.

With review commitments to several venues, regular crits for colleagues, plus a personal predeliction for erotica, I probably read a dozen erotic short stories a month. Most of these stories are adequate: reasonably well-written, moderately engaging, mildly arousing. Rarely do I encounter stories that I consider exceptional, stories that excite me in a literary rather than a physical sense.

What does it take for me to be excited by a story? Each case varies, but I look for an original premise, a unique voice, unconventional characters, and most of all, a treatment of sex more as an emotional or spiritual adventure than as a conjunction of body parts.

I'm delighted to report that, by my definition, many of the tales in Cecilia Tan's collection are exceptional.

Ms. Tan has a reputation for "speculative erotica", erotic fantasy and science fiction. It's easy to be original, one might argue, when one can build one's own worlds and write one's own rules. Yet almost half of the stories in WHITE DREAMS are contemporary erotica, with barely a whiff of fantasy.

Among my favorites is "Just Tell Me the Rules". A woman who is saving her virginity for marriage sends her housemate/fiance off on a business trip, only to have his best friend arrive at her door, a challenge to what she thought she wanted. Another delight is "Always", a down-to-earth tale of a loving threesome that begins with a scene all too familiar from my days in New England:

A raw spring day in Somerville, me in galoshes and a pair of my father's old painting pant with a snow shovel, cursing and trying to life a cinderblock-sized (and -weighted) chunk of wet packed snow off the walkway of our three-decker.

Vivid and concrete one moment, Ms. Tan can wax tender and raunchy the next:

Morgan's hands travel up my thighs like they come out of a dream. It never occurs to me to stop her. Sex with Morgan is as easy and natural as saying yes to a bite of chocolate from the proffered bar of a friend. Before her fingers even reach the elastic edge of my panties I am already shifting my hips, already breathing deeper, already thinking about the way her fingers will touch and tease me, how one slim finger will slide deep into me when I am wet, how good it feels to play with her hair on my belly, how much I want her. With Morgan, I always come.

Then there's "Baseball Fever", Ms. Tan's hilarious and highly explicit fantasy about a Yankee rookie for whom she has the hots: "This guy's got destiny. He fits right in with multi-ethic New York, too - half-black, half-white, cannily polite with the media but cocky as hell when he gets on the field." I'm not much of a sports fan, but when Tan brought Tiger Woods into the final scene of the fantasy, "just to make sure it's not 100% percent heterosexual", I laughed until my stomach hurt.

At first glance, one might dismiss "Halloween" as an instance of the overworked "girl meets dominant man of her dreams in a bar" genre. Tan brings new life to the old scenario, partly due to the kick-ass attitude of the world-weary Goth narrator. "The Hard Sell" is a tale of a modern woman longing to escape from the labels and slogans that society applies to everything and everyone around her - including the man who drives her into a frenzy.

Although WHITE FLAMES includes some excellent realistic pieces, I must admit that myth and magic lie at its heart. The middle hundred pages of the book are devoted to fantasy, starting with a stunningly erotic retelling of "The Little Mermaid" then flowering into more original tales. In "Bodies of Water", a team of archeologists discover an ancient ship on the floor of the Mediterranean. The discovery transforms them, both literally and figuratively. "Dragon's Daughter" is a fascinating tale of a Chinese-American girl who learns that she's an immortal who can travel through time and space to anywhere Chinese culture dominates.

This is the ignominy of the American educational system: that to speak the tongue of my ancestors I had to fight to be enrolled in a special college class and trudge to it every morning at 8:00. I didn't think I knew the words to explain what I was doing there, anyway... I had no words yet for worry or conflict or secret or dream.

Three amazing stories featuring the same characters - Stormclaw and The Lady in Black - conclude this section. Like so many characters in the today's wildly popular "paranormal" genre, Stormclaw and the Lady are "elementals" - creatures of wind and fire and earth. They are not just people with special powers, however. They are truly inhuman, incomprehensible to and uncomprehending of the mortals among whom they move. They are drawn to human passion, yet do not understand it.

These stories are lyrical and intense, strange and haunting.

He flies. He flies over clouds as dark as his hair, his eyes, his mood, as he thinks about her. Stormclaw is the dragon of the wind, coiling his power like a cyclone, soaring over night sky, moving eastward like a front of incipient weather. He sees without eyes, senses without skin, when he is the wind, considers without thought, and loves without a heart.

Stormclaw haunts seedy bars, taunting the men who drink there, trying to remember what it is that he seeks.

Stormclaw feels the first strike of the leather cat-o-nine cross his back like the first bite into a sour summer fruit, a rich and intense pleasure. He draws breath waiting for the next blow to fall, and as he exhales he feels Ravenhair's breath on his shoulder--they are like one animal, tensing and then letting go, and then gathering themselves again. Breathe in, tense for the strike, then let go as the pain rains down around you.

One of the delightful aspects of this collection is its inclusiveness. These stories embrace all orientations, without self-consciousness or politicizing. WHITE FLAMES offers FF, MM, FMF, and FFF tales, not to mention sexually-aware mermaids and robots. In Ms. Tan's worlds, desire is a universal force, not confined to any particular gender or even species.

The book ends with three science fiction tales, of which the best is "The Spark". What if the magical energy that seems to animate the gods and goddesses of rock and roll was a real, measurable force, that could be stoked, and shared -- and lost?

WHITE FLAMES includes a few stories that are hohum, but Ms. Tan hits the target far more often than she falls short. If you enjoy literary erotica that will make you wonder as often as it makes you sweat, I highly recommend this volume.