Agony/Ecstasy: Original Stories of Agonizing Pleasure/Exquisite Pain

Agony/Ecstasy: Original Stories of Agonizing Pleasure/Exquisite Pain - Of all the reviews I write, anthologies are the hardest nut to crack. When the anthology is one of numerous short stories, rather than a handful of novellas, the task grows even more difficult. When you're working with stories that are a mere 20 pages in length, how do you review them without giving away all the details?Since this is a genre collection, rather than a literary one, there's not a ton to talk about thematically. The authors' goals were to entertain, not enlighten. So I'd suppose my job as a reviewer is to try explain if they succeeded or not.So, to begin with, it's like most anthologies: some great stories, some terrible ones, and a bunch of ok ones. Definitely erotica, not romance, but not all BDSM themed. Most have at least a thread of romance to them, but only a few had an HEA. Some don't even have an HFN. Rest assured that none of the stories are downers, but if you're a romance reader you might not know what to make of the stories with fully ambiguous endings.If I added up my grades for the stories to find the mathematical average, the book comes in at a three. Somehow that just didn't match my perception of the anthology as a whole. The raw desire and emotion of "Shameless," the pulse-quickening suspense of "Rescue Me" and the convention-bucking "Safeword" seemed better than a mere three star read. "Caged" breathed new life into the tired werewolf theme and left me begging for more. "Into the Red" was an imaginative futuristic gladiator tale with some of the hottest emotion in the anthology. "Bruised Ego" and "Overtaken" took two different takes on boxer/fighter heroes, managing to show both sides of the same coin.Yes, "Wetwire" was derivative Neuromancer fanfic, the dialog-free "Taken" a boring Indian captive story and "The Wooden Pony" a phoned-in maledom BDSM cliche, but they didn't manage to spoil the bunch. For every bad story there were two okay ones and one great one. Isn't that really the best you can hope for in an anthology?If you're in the market for quick and dirty erotic short stories, Agony/Ecstasy is a quality offering. It's diverse in theme, sexual orientation and culture and packs enough emotion to keep it from being a volume of forgettable stroke fiction. The strongest entries far outweigh the weakest ones, leaving the lasting impression of a satisfying read. If you're brave enough to step outside the romance genre Jane is associated with, this is a great collection of erotica.