A Linebacker in Lace by Caitlin Ricci
This ex-linebacker is impossible for his friend to resist.
Satin Secrets by CL Mustafic
Sometimes secrets are better when they’re shared.
Backwards and in High Heels by Elizabeth Coldwell
Tonight he has the chance to live out his dream.
Angels in Delaware by Sita Bethel
When one finds two partners, it helps to dress for the occasion.
All That Entails by E.M. Hamill
A gender-fluid prince with a penchant for gowns finds his unlikely match in an arranged marriage.
After the Dance by Sydney Blackburn
Sometimes happily ever after requires a pretty frock.
A Secret Shared by C.A. Blocke
One sweet secret shared—and a spicy one returned.
Ruffle My Feathers by Asta Idonea
Sometimes love can be found behind a feather boa.
Let me just tell you how much excite I had when I heard there was going to be a whole book devoted to MANTIES!
Even though I don't care for anthologies, the MANTIES will not be denied!
Without further ado... my feels. And some NSFW pics.
A Linebacker in Lace by Caitlin Ricci - 2 Hearts
Super rushed. The dialogue's stilted and this "relationship" moves at lightning speed riiiiiight into instalove land. A decent attempt was made to flesh out the characters, but by and large it was a dud; they're still 2D.
Brent is a former football player with a penchant for lace. He meets Arliss at a bar who informs him that his lace is on display. Three whole dates later they're in luuuuubbbb.
There was very little for me to grasp onto and I'm not a fan of MANTIES wearers feeling shame about said MANTIES wearing so that was a strike against it for me. Also, Arliss works for his sister in her men's lingerie shop, but he seemed inordinately invested in Brent broadening his MANTIES horizons. He straddles the line between supportive and pushy. And it was awkward.
I could actually connect with Arliss on the Power of the MANTIES making one slightly cray but I would've thought during the one sex scene the MANTIES would've played a larger role. Perhaps that's my deviance talking.
Satin Secrets by CL Mustafic - 4 Hearts
I really liked this story. Mustafic developed a tangible connection between the protagonists. They clearly have chemistry and I got good sense of them as characters.
I'm a fan of this kink too. Not just the MANTIES one either. There was some shame over the MANTIES wearing but it seemed to be quickly assuaged.
Sorry this is 16 different kinds of vague but if I say anything more than it's basically a scene between the protagonists, it'll ruin it for everyone. I will say I'm looking forward to reading the novel by this author.
Backwards and in High Heels by Elizabeth Coldwell - 2.5 Hearts
Likable but dry. Billie and Oliver are an established couple and while Oliver's on a work trip to Europe Billie decides to learn some ballroom dances to surprise him. I liked that he's a man on a mission to go all out for his man, complete with a dress and kitten heels as well as the requisite MANTIES.
Billie's a bit of nervous Nelly who struggles with excessive worry over how he's perceived by others and that got a little old, though it did give me a sense of him quickly.
Bottom line, I like the idea of this story more than the execution of it. It needed some oomph or a hook or maybe a gut punch to make me invest in this slice of life tale.
I did like the hall sex and the incorporation of the MANTIES into it. Nothing says passion like ripped panties. *eyebrows*
Angels in Delaware by Sita Bethel - 3 Hearts
This is the heaviest of the anthology, tackling homophobia and its ripple effect destructiveness.
Angel and Delaware are an established couple looking to add another and have not had much success until they meet Beau at a club one night. Delaware is gender fluid and prefers dresses most of the time whereas Angel leans more femme with guyliner and frequently highlights. Beau's attracted to them, both of them. They're attracted to Beau so BOW CHICKA WOW WOW.
Their chemistry comes through as a triad and kudos to Bethel for not utilizing the instalove trope. The narrative skirted the preachy line and there were too many tedious details. One thing that niggled was this undercurrent of seemingly derisive attitudes towards casual sex. I get that it's not for everyone, but by the same token, I don't care for negatronic attitudes nor judgeyness towards those who partake either.
Overall, this story struck me as a diamond in the rough and with a little polishing/experience in the writing game will likely improve.
Nevertheless, I bought into the HFN of this triad and appreciated the amount of relationship development Bethel brought to the story as well as the fact that Delaware has zero fucks to give about what other people think of how he dresses. I liked that a lot.
All That Entails by E.M. Hamill - 4.5 Hearts
This is a fantasy story with an admirable amount of worldbuilding and relationship development between Henry and Darian. Henry is trans F2M who was allowed to be a tomboy up until puberty. He's got a supportive twin brother but his father is cruel. Very cruel. Henry is headstrong and maybe a bit stubborn, but he gives in and becomes Prince Darian's bride even though he hates gowns and corsets and heels.
As luck would have it, he and Darian met at a masked ball once and Darian left an impression.
Darian is gender fluid but leans more femme. All the things Henry despises Darian adores. He's also bisexual but expected to marry well to fill his kingdom's coffers. Never let it be said that serendipity isn't serendipitous. And that dress scene... ALL THE FEELS! SO SWEET!
The writing is strong with well drawn characters that are relatable and likable. This isn't necessarily a romance, more the genesis of something that could turn into something more. What made me uneasy were the pronouns. Every time Henry was misgendered, I winced.
I will definitely be on the lookout for more stories by this author.
After the Dance by Sydney Blackburn - 4 Hearts
Frank is a mechanic and has a crush the size of Montana on Charles Quinn, son of the owner of Dominion Air, where he works. He is a shy fellow who blushes frequently-something I found charming-and is a man of few words.
Charles is very dashing but being from money he's expected to marry well. To that end, his parents have notified him of an upcoming ball they've arranged wherein he's expected to choose a bride. Trouble is he's pining for Frank. Ahhhhh, unrequited love. Is there anything sweeter? Answer-yes! When there's cross-dressing involved!
I got the sense that Frank is lean with delicate bone structure and pretty. That he can easily fool others about his gender when he's all dolled up which leads to a very sweet HEA. Super sweet. I *may* have floated around on the sugar high for a minute. Or two.
I almost immediately invested into this relationship and these characters. The building of tension between them was admirable given the story's length. My one wish is that the worldbuilding had been better developed and more succinct with more details about the characters, but that would've probably pushed it out of short story range. Overall it was incredibly sweet, made me AWWWWWW and I didn't want it to end.
A Secret Shared by C.A. Blocke - 3 Hearts
*chokes a tiny bit*
So many things to like including realistic dialogue but it needed time to percolate to get me to invest in the romance between Tommy and Michael. They are an established couple who are keeping their relaysh on the DL, because QB of the football team, but I've no idea how long they've been together.
"A Shared Secret" is really more of scene between the two, a sexy scene to be certain, but there's not enough meat on it for me to connect with them, though I did have a huge grin on my face at how accepting Michael is of Tommy's desire to delve deeper into his MANTIES fetish. Man after my own heart, he is.
I'd love to see what this author could do with a full length novel.
Ruffle My Feathers by Asta Idonea - 1.5 Hearts
Barrett is a construction worker by day and a drag queen on the weekends. It's his escape and a tightly kept secret and it, among other things, causes him much angst. Keith, after years of living in the closet, decides to hit the drag bar. Because reasons.
Lookit, I get that it's a short story and the inherent limitations contained therein, so I can't understand why SO MUCH time was wasted on minute details. I'm familiar with the mechanics of driving a car and opening a bottle. Those were wasted page time, IMO. Furthermore, there's nothing to differentiate these characters from one another, no depth, though they both have some serious angst over... everything. But the straw that broke the Cupcake's back was why these two are even together. Because they're both gay and work together? That's not enough for me. Not near enough.
I did like that they were accepted by their peers, rendering most of their angst pointless, but I'm sure they'll find something else to angst over soon enough.
There were continuity errors and silly editing mistakes in several of the stories and like every anthology I've ever read there were gems and duds. However, if you're a fan of MANTIES, non-binary or cross-dressing then you should give Beneath the Layers a try.
A review copy was provided.