Tag Archive | explicit

How Not To Fall – Emily Foster

Remember when Fifty Shades of Grey was all the rage? Sure you do.  125 million people bought that piece of crap. (Okay, yes, I read it. But I did not read its sequels. I have standards, people.) Suddenly everyone was reading erotica – loud and proud or behind the more secretive screens of their e-readers.

I love a good smutty book, but the problem with smut is that no two readers will be alike when it comes to what turns them on. Perhaps E.L. James just got lucky. In fandom, which are the loins from which her books sprang, BDSM is as common as sex in the missionary position with the lights off. My objection to the Fifty Shades book(s) had nothing to do with the subject matter (I spent ten years in fandom; I’ve read it all) and everything to do with the quality of the prose and one-dimensional characterization. (It couldn’t be any other way, Edward/Christian and Bella/Anastasia are about as one-note as they come.)

27208942Enter How Not To Fall. Of course I’d seen this book at the book store, but I don’t think I even picked it up to read the blurb. Then I read a review – although I can’t remember where. The reviewer avoided comparisons with Fifty Shades, but did sing the book’s praises. Smart and hot – which is probably a pretty good combination. So, the next time I was at Indigo, I bought the book and now I’ve read it.

Annabelle (Annie) Coffey is a 22-year-old student at a university in Indiana. Dr. Charles Douglas is a 26-year-old postdoctoral fellow in Annie’s psychophysiology lab. He’s British and brilliant and “a dreamboat” and, technically, her teacher.  Annie’s been lusting after him for two years, but as her undergraduate degree draws to a close, she figures it’s about time to take matters into her own hands – so to speak. She tells her roommate and best friend, Margaret, that she is “going to ask Charles to have sex.” She asks, he declines, but Annie is convinced that she hasn’t misread the signals. She tells him

“The thing is, I think you and I have A Thing, and I know if I don’t at least put it on the table, I’ll always wonder ‘what if’ and so I’m just…putting it on the table, you know, and leaving it there. Like bread. For sharing.”

Turns out, Charles does reciprocate Annie’s feelings; he’s just too professional to act on them. So they make a deal – once all her research is in, once there is no possibility of a sex act compromising ethics – they’ll do it. Cue about 200 pages of smut.

Here’s what I really liked about How Not To Fall.

  1. Annie/Charles  Annie is self-deprecating and her narration is charming and often funny.

Am I a beauty queen? I am not. My nose has a great deal of character. My hair has some interesting ideas about its place in the world. My body is built more along the lines of a wristwatch than an hourglass – flat yet bendy. It works for me – I am my body’s biggest fangirl – but I recognize where it falls short of the culturally constructed ideal.

Charles is smart – like brilliant smart – but also kind and, as we learn gradually, a little bit damaged, too. Also, on the hotness scale – according to Annie “it is a mercy to the world that the man doesn’t try to look good.”

2.  The sex is well-written. That’s a big one for me. If I am going to read erotica, I want to read well-written erotica. And since How Not To Fall contains a lot of sex it might have easily gotten boring. You know – geesh, are they going to do it again? I didn’t skim. Actually, overall, the book is well-written.

3. Personally, I kinda loved the way the book ended – although it did break my heart a little. Apparently, there’s a sequel coming out next year. (I will probably read it: see #1.)

I did have a couple little things that irked me. Charles often sounded like a middle-aged man. He called Annie “Young Coffey” a lot. Like he was twenty years her senior rather than four. He also refers to her as “termagant,” a word I was not familiar with, so I had to look it up. It means a “harsh or overbearing woman.”  I couldn’t really make the connection. Also, I don’t have a foot fetish – clearly Charles does. Too much feet/toes for me. These are niggles, because overall, I enjoyed the book for all the reasons one might enjoy a book of this type.

So – if you are looking for a fun, smutty book to pack in your beach bag – give this one a go.

Breakable – Tammara Webber

Ohhh, Lucas. I still love you. Maybe you will remember a couple years back when I got all 17936925swoony over my  encounter with Lucas in Tammara Webber’s first novel, Easy. In that book we are introduced to sophomore music student Jacqueline Wallace who has followed her douchey boyfriend, Kennedy, from their hometown in Texas to a college somewhere else. (I want to say near Washington, but I am not 100% sure and it really doesn’t matter.)

Breakable is pretty much their story, only this time from Lucas’s point of view. And you might think, “Hold on, wait a minute. Why in the heck do we need to hear the same story all over again?” Trust me – you need to hear Lucas’s story because Lucas is that guy – you know, the hot one with a tragic backstory. Also, Webber can write and it will not be a hardship to plow through Lucas’s story. Did I mention he’s hot?

Lucas first spots Jacqueline in an introductory Economics class. He is there, not as a student, but as the tutor – taking notes so he can help struggling students. He observes Jacqueline from across the room noting

There was nothing in the room as interesting as this girl…This girl wasn’t tapping her fingers restlessly, though. Her movements were methodical. Synchronized. …and at some point,  I realized that when her expression was remote and her fingers were moving, she was hearing music. She was playing music.

It was the most magical thing I’d ever seen anyone do.

Lucas can’t stop watching her, but he also can’t do anything about it. For one thing – she has a boyfriend (the aforementioned douche) and for another, it’s against the tutor-potential tutee rules. And Lucas is not anything, if he’s not principled. Plus, the professor of the course is his de facto father and Lucas would never willingly do anything to disappoint him.

Except, of course, he doesn’t really want to stay away from Jacqueline. He can’t.

Avoidance would have been the smart thing, but where she was concerned, all logical thought was useless. I was full of irrational desires to be what I could never be again, to have what I could never have.

I wanted to be whole.

Anyone who has already read Easy will already know how Jacqueline and Lucas officially meet. They will also know how intense their feelings for each other are. What they won’t know is how Lucas came to build the walls around his heart or the horrible feelings of guilt he carries with him or why he and his father have such a strained relationship. Breakable will answer all those questions.

Breakable is a companion rather than a prequel or a sequel. It’s also a much racier book than Easy, which I had no qualms about putting on my classroom library shelves. I’ll probably keep this one here at home.

I am sucker for the bad boys. Lucas and Jacqueline 4eva!

Hausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum

hausfrauPoor Anna. Her life sucks. She’s the protagonist in Jill Alexander Essbaum’s novel Hausfrau,  an American living in Dietlikon, a suburb of Zurich, with Bruno, her Swiss banker husband and her children: Victor, 8, Charles, 6, and baby Polly. She doesn’t work. She’s barely even learned to speak the language despite having lived in Switzerland for almost a decade. Her mother-in-law seems wholly unimpressed with her – and no wonder: Anna disappears for hours, taking language classes and having sex with random men.

It’s hard to really like Anna very much. She’s not the effusive American one might expect. Instead of joining the other mothers when she meets her sons at school she “scuffed the  sole of a brown clog  against the sidewalk’s curb…fiddled with her hair and pretended to watch an invisible bird flying overheard.”  She claims she is “shy and cannot talk to strangers.”  That may be true, but she speaks the universal language just fine.

Yep – Anna is a serial cheater. The reader meets Archie Sutherland first, an expat Scotsman.

Archie and Anna shared a plate of cheese, some greengage plums, a bottle of mineral water. Then they set everything aside and fucked again. Archie came in her mouth. It tasted like school paste, starchy and thick. This is a good thing I am doing, Anna said inside of herself, though “good” was hardly the right word. Anna knew this. What she meant was expedient. What she meant was convenient. What she meant was wrong in nearly every way but justifiable as it makes me feel better, and for so very long I have felt so very, very bad.

Oh, well, that’s all right then. You just go ahead and fuck whomever you please without any regard for anyone else but yourself because, clearly, life is rough for you. Oh please.

I am not a prude. I think everyone deserves a chance to be happy. The problem with Hausfrau is that I didn’t care one bit about Anna and by the time Essbaum actually gave me a reason to care about her it was too late. Anna is a hot mess and for no good reason that I can see.  She’s whiney and self-centered and in one instance, treats her adored younger son, Charles, so deplorably that there was just no way for me to like her after that.

Okay – maybe I am being too harsh. I mean, it’s tough to be a modern woman. Like, she’s got three kids and she lives in a foreign country and her husband is a stoic workaholic. Oh, wait, she comes and goes as she pleases. She doesn’t have to worry about money. She recognizes that her affairs are a product of her “longing for diversion…and from boredom particular habits were born.” No Netflix in Switzerland, eh? How about knitting or a good book, Anna?

Not even her psychoanalyst, Doktor Messerli, is able to offer any real useful advice. Instead, she imparts pithy gems like “Shame lies. Shame a woman and she will believe she is fundamentally wrong, organically delinquent.” And when it is clear Anna is desperate, the good doctor tells her to stop ringing her bell and leave immediately. Okay, then.

Critics loved this book. I did not.

Love Remains – Glen Duncan

loveremains Despite the fact that Glen Duncan’s novel Love Remains is only 277 pages long, it took me about a month to finish because I could never read any more than a few pages at a time before my head started to swim. But I mean that as a compliment rather than a criticism.  Duncan is a well-known and much-praised British author who was new to me when I purchased the book. Love Remains, Duncan’s second novel, is almost relentlessly grim. Again – it’s a compliment, honest. There’s no way you could tackle the topic Duncan does in this book without being a skillful craftsman, and Duncan really is an amazing writer.

Nick and Chloe meet in university.

The possibility of love revealed itself to Chloe immediately, in a shock. When they sat opposite each other that first Wednesday, with rain streaking the steamed windows and the delicious reek of frying bacon in the air, she felt (thinking, stunned, of the billions who had felt it, down the long bloodied canvas of history) the first murderous utterance of romance: It’s him.

Nick’s feelings for Chloe are slightly more ambivalent, although he does concede that “he was so curious about what was going on inside her that lust only followed along afterwards, like an obligatory bit of luggage.”

The trajectory of Chloe and Nick’s love story is mostly straightforward. They get married, start jobs,  eventually move into “their first proper home” in Clapham and then, as with many marriages, the romantic impetus drains from their lives as they deal with life’s mundane and often inane decisions: “Do you think we should get a futon, Nick.”  As their marriage closes in around them, “They suffered, periodically, the ache of familiarity.” Chloe feels “suffocated by the sound of his breath escaping through his nostrils” and Nick “hated her for having finished the shape of him.”

Duncan masterfully builds a marriage from the ground up and then, just as masterfully, wrenches it apart in the most violent way possible.  In some ways, it’s almost as though Duncan has written two different, but equally compelling, novels.

When the novel opens, Nick has already left London because that’s what you do “when the future ended.” He is on a journey, it seems, of self-destruction comprised of smoking, drinking and having sadomasochistic sex. None of it makes sense until we learn what has happened to Chloe and, even then, it’d difficult to wrap your head around. Is Nick reprehensible for having abandoned his wife? That’s just one of the moral questions Duncan asks you to consider in this book.

Chloe is on a journey of her own. It is equally compelling, although perhaps more heartbreaking. The random and horrific experience she has endured has sharpened her: “Her face in the mirror, barely recognizable, rewritten.”

What was once a path traveled together, has now been cleaved. I commend Duncan for resisting the urge to offer a tidy ending, but the ending, nonetheless, is remarkable.

Highly recommended.

 

Uses for Boys – Erica Lorraine Scheidt

usesforboysHer bed is a raft on the ocean. It’s a cloud, a forest, a spaceship, a cocoon we share. I stretch out big as I can, a five-pointed star, and she bundles me back up in her arms. When I wake I’m tangled in her hair.

That’s Anna, protagonist of Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s YA novel Uses for Boys, remembering.  She remembers a time before stepfathers and step brothers, a time she calls the “tell-me-again-times.” Those were the times when her mother would gather her up and tell her how much she was wanted, “more than anything in the world.”

Unhappily for Anna, the “tell-me-again” times don’t last long. By the time Anna is eight her mother insists that she is “too big for stories.” It’s also the time that Anna’s mother decides that she is tired of being alone and ventures out to meet a man  and it seems just about any man will do. Early on Anna learns the lessons that her mother teaches: men will leave.

Despite its cover depicting kissing teens wrapped in twinkley lights, Uses for Boys is mostly the grim story of Anna’s search for unconditional love – the love she should have received from her mother if her mother had bothered to pay attention. Instead, Anna must seek it elsewhere and she does it by chasing (mostly) sexual relationships with boys.

First there’s Desmond who sticks his hand on Anna’s thirteen-year-old breast on the school bus in full view of his friends.  Then there’s Joey. And Todd. You get the picture. It isn’t until Anna meets Sam and his family that Anna realizes what she’s been looking for (and willing to give away to get it): family.

“Sam’s house is everything I wanted, but didn’t know to want.” Anna says about her first visit to Sam’s house. “I want to wrap myself in this house like a blanket.”

It’s hard not to sympathize with Anna. She has a nice home but a mostly absent mother. No one has guided her to make wise choices about her body or to value herself as a person, so it’s difficult to blame her when she makes poor decisions.  Scheidt’s writing is often poetic although I’m not sure if that makes Anna’s life any easier to bear.

I Take You – Nikki Gemmell

tlc tour hostThanks to the folks at TLC, I’m back with another book by Nikki Gemmell. You’ll recall that I took a look at her novel With My Body last month and today I am going to talk about her book I Take You. Beginning with The Bride Stripped Bare, With My Body and I Take You form a trilogy of sorts, although the characters and plots don’t really overlap so each book could be read independently of the others. I Take You

I Take You is the story of Connie Carven, wife to Clifford, a banker who has been seriously injured in a skiing accident and can no longer – erm – perform certain husbandly duties. No matter, Cliff has found other ways to satisfy his wife, most of them involving his Mont Blanc pen and a wicked imagination. At first Connie seems like a willing participant in her husband’s increasingly perverse sexual games, but one night Cliff takes things a teensy bit  (okay, a lot) too far and something in Connie, I don’t want to say snaps – changes.

Truthfully, I didn’t get Connie’s relationship with Cliff. Like, at all. Pre-accident he was  “her American…someone to be laughed at and admired and feared in equal measure.” Cliff is over-the-top rich and Connie “grew quickly addicted to this way of living – loved the sparkly, unthinking splash of it.”

When she tries to explain her relationship with Cliff to her father she says:

“We’re happy , Dad. As we are. I’m his wife and I have a job to do. A very important one. Now more than ever. Only I can help him, only me. I’ve bcome crucial to him in a way that’s impossible to explain.”

We are meant to believe that Cliff’s accident was the impetus for her to fall in love with her husband because “it tipped their sex life into something else. Because Cliff gouged out – patiently, gently, beseechingly – the very marrow of his impenetrable wife. It had been the trigger that now tipped him into something else.”  But the thing is, I don’t see these two as having very much of anything at all except perhaps for a co-dependent relationship and a penchant for kinky sex. And I never saw Cliff as a nurturing, kind man and he can’t kiss worth a damn, apparently.

Then, matters get more complicated when Connie meets Mel – he’s the gardener who takes care of the private communal garden that belongs to the houses on their square. It was at this point that I had a ‘wait a minute’ moment. I Take You was starting to sound suspiciously like another book: D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterly’s Lover.  According to the blurb on the back (which I hadn’t bothered to read) Gemmell was indeed inspired by Lawrence’s infamous book.

Everything you think is going to happen, happens. Mel and Connie start an illicit affair; Cliff gets all bent out of shape about it; Connie chooses personal happiness over marital responsibility.

So how does I Take You compare with the other erotica out there? Well, Gemmel’s writing is still lovely (although I think I might have appreciated this book a bit more if I’d had more of a breather between this one and With My Body.) It’s often quite graphic, so if that’s not your cup of titillation tea – perhaps this isn’t the book for you.

I can’t say I was quite as enamoured with I Take You as I was with With My Body. I may need a little while longer to figure out why Connie’s journey just didn’t resonate with me the way the narrator in With My Body did.

Blood – Patricia Traxler

BloodNorrie Blume, the protagonist of Patricia Traxler’s debut novel, Blood, is a thirty-five-year-old painter who has taken a leave of absence from her job as a graphic artist to focus on her art. To do that, she has accepted a Larkin fellowship at Radcliffe in Boston and has moved into one of the residences. It is there that she meets two other Larkin fellows, Clara, a journalist from Chile and Devi, a poet from London. Norrie doesn’t make friends easily and she is used to a certain degree of isolation – partly because of her vocation and partly because of her relationship with Michael Sullivan, a best-selling novelist who just happens to be married. It’s not like they can hang out in public. Nevertheless, she likes Devi immediately and sees all Clara’s character flaws just as quickly.

I have mixed feelings about Blood. Generally speaking, I liked it. The writing was decent and the story moved along. My problem had to do with a certain degree of uneveness.

Norrie tells the reader, “Though it’s true there’s a killing in my story, its principal violence is, I think I’d have to say, the violence of love.”

True enough: Norrie and Michael can’t keep their hands off each other and in one respect, Blood is a relatively explicit examination of infidelity. Of course, while  there’s no real honour in adultery, Michael does genuinely seem to love Norrie and wants a future with her. On the other hand, he can’t quite seem to get his shit together enough to leave his wife of 25 years. And why should he when he can have his cake and eat it, too.

Much of Blood is given over to the push/pull of Norrie’s top-secret relationship with Michael (no one, not even her best friend Liz, knows about him even though they’ve been together for two years.) And that might have been quite enough for one novel, but Traxler also delves into the mysterious world of female relationships and that’s where Clara and Devi come in.

Clara is clearly passive-aggressive and Norrie alternates between feeling sorry for and irritated by her. When she meets Devi, however, her feelings are immediately of the warm and fuzzy variety. This strangely dysfunctional threesome makes up the other third of the novel’s narrative. It’s also what, apparently, drives the book’s suspense – not to say that I didn’t turn the pages, but towards the end it did get a little, um, silly.

Not content with all those relationships, Traxler also dips a brush into the whole world of creativity. Traxler herself is an award-winning poet and so she likely knows a thing or two about the creative process, I’m just not sure that as it was written here is added any value to this story.

I guess that’s why when I came to the end of Blood I couldn’t really say I loved the book. I might have liked it a whole lot better if it had been about just Norrie and Michael, or just Norrie and Clara and Devi or even just about Norrie and her struggles to create art. As it was, the canvas was just a little too crowded for me.