Adventures in reading – accidental corollaries

Hi again. I hope your summer is shaping up to be super awesome. I’ve been busy reading and learning how to play the ukulele and sort of kind of developing a business as a freelance copyeditor. (Very sort of kind of. I pretty much have the business acumen of a whale shark.) You know… the usual.

Anyway, this post is about reading, so let’s see if I can push through my ridiculous writer’s block and get to it. (By the way, I feel compelled to point out that I started writing this draft in the middle of June… so… it’s taking me an awfully long time to push through the ridiculous writer’s block.)

Do you guys have a process that you use to help decide what book to read next? I suspect that you do — it seems that all the people have a more methodical approach to everything in their lives than I have. I don’t plan things out. At all. So when I finish a book, I feel a kind of panic: Shit, what’s next?! If I were a better reader, I’d take some time to ruminate on what I’d just read… that’s the reason I started this blog three years ago, after all… but thinking about what I’ve read always seems like the kind of thing that will be better accomplished tomorrow. (So, it’s never actually accomplished.)

I have three basic rules that guide my reading choices:

  1. I read everything I buy (eventually), so I try always to scan through the unread titles in my library before making a choice.
  2. When reading ARCs, I try not to read them more than a month prior to the release date, because I know there’s probably no chance in hell that I’ll still remember the book sufficiently to write a review of it, assuming I decide to write a review, closer to the book’s release. I know — it’s sad both that my memory is so bad and that I have such low expectations of any given book’s memorability.
  3. If I start a book and it’s not holding my attention, I put it down in favor of something that works for whatever mood I’m in. I don’t see much point in forcing myself to read a historical romp when I’m in the mood for a more contemporary story. When I’m in the mood for that romp, I’ll come back to it.

Anyway, I shared all of that because I’m interested in hearing from other readers about what guides their reading choices. But what I really wanted to talk about today is accidental reading corollaries, the phenomenon that happens sometimes when you read two books in a row (chosen at random, in my case) that unexpectedly share certain characteristics and allow you to read the second book (and to remember the first book) more critically. For example, I might read a historical romance and follow it up with some erotica; I wouldn’t expect the two stories to have much in common, but maybe both stories deal with themes of self-acceptance. And, because reading is subjective and builds upon context and experience, my reading of the erotica will be influenced by my prior reading of the historical romance (and my memories of the historical romance will be colored by my experience of the erotica). When thinking about each book, I won’t be able to resist comparing them, considering them together.

Last month, I read an ARC of Lauren Dane’s Opening Up, and I followed it with Alexis Hall’s For Real. It happens that these books have an awful lot in common, though ostensibly quite different types of stories. Dane’s is a m/f tale set in a world of custom car shops. Its hero, Asa, a pierced, tattooed vet, co-owns a custom shop, dabbles in a bit of light BDSM, and prefers to keep things casual. Its heroine, PJ, a pierced, tattooed heiress from a prominent tire company, starts a high-end custom paint company, has issues with her family, and chases after the hero for all she’s worth (I loved that part.).

Hall’s tale, meanwhile, is a m/m tale that explores BDSM through the context of the relationship between two heroes: Laurie, an experienced and settled but emotionally unavailable submissive, and Toby, an inexperienced, somewhat lost, and endlessly courageous dominant.

As I said, I read Dane’s book first. I liked a lot of things about Opening Up, especially the heroine. PJ is young (mid-twenties) — which could easily have been her sole character trait, because it’s the thing that sets her apart from Asa, but Dane’s eye for character is much more nuanced — but she knows her own mind and heart and somewhat relentlessly pursues Asa, despite their 12-year age gap, because she recognizes that their attraction is not a thing to be missed. PJ’s confidence and tenacity continue even after the book takes a bit of turn into BDSM-lite territory. I’ll admit to mixed feelings about the book’s sex scenes — on the one hand, I liked the dynamic between Asa and PJ (and I particularly liked that Asa was shown trying things out with PJ, sometimes things that didn’t work), but I would have preferred if Asa’s sexual proclivities had made more sense for his character. Instead, it seemed that Asa was into certain things because contemporary romance heroes almost have to be into those things nowadays. My main complaint about the book is its pacing. After a great beginning, the book lost a little steam (I thought), mired in a bit too much day-to-day relationship drama, and it lost focus towards the end, becoming less about the love story and more about PJ’s troubled relationship with her family.

So that’s what I thought when I finished reading Opening Up. I mean, of course I noticed a few other things (real quick: I loved the frequent shout outs to feminism, and I loved PJ standing up to Asa on the age thing), but I started For Real almost immediately, so I didn’t take a lot of time to ruminate on anything but the broad strokes.

The first accidental corollary to hit me while reading For Real was the age gap between Laurie and Toby and how each responded to it. Laurie, being older, has this implicit bias that Toby can’t quite know what he wants, and Toby has to set him straight. Repeatedly. Toby’s indignation at having to defend his ability (his right?) to discern his own identity pretty closely mirrors PJ’s indignation toward Asa. I know what I want, both characters assert, and it’s damn annoying to be told that one can’t know something, particularly when one does. It’s entirely possible that I would have paid attention regardless, but with the age issue in Opening Up fresh on my mind, it jumped from the page. I found that I particularly appreciated For Real for making the age difference so much more notable — Toby’s 19 to Laurie’s 37 really is more remarkable than PJ’s 25 to Asa’s 37 — and for adding the nuanced discussion of identity as well as age.

For Real isn’t shy about what it is. I mean, look at the cover. (By contrast, Opening Up is rather coy with its — admittedly beautiful — cover and its mention of “the darker edge of desire…”) It is at its core a novel that explores a particular dynamic of BDSM between these two characters. I’d been anticipating the novel’s release for months, and I was thrilled to find it as thought-provoking, and as beautifully executed, as I’d hoped. And, of course, I couldn’t help the accidental corollary. I’d complained (to myself) that the BDSM elements of PJ and Asa’s relationship seemed a bit tacked on, but here was a book where these elements seemed inseparable from the story and characters. Laurie and Toby’s relationship provides the context wherein Hall examines BDSM, but the reverse is also true. It was fascinating to read the book twice, the first time paying more attention to the difference between Hall’s presentation of BDSM and that available in recent, more mainstream, works (of which Dane’s Opening Up could be called an exemplar), and the second thinking more about the sex scenes as an expression and development of character. Tending toward mental laziness (I’m sad to admit), I am certain that without the immediate influence of the first story, I would not have bothered thinking all that deeply about the second.

Speaking of mental laziness… I could go on detailing more points of comparison between these two books, but… I’m starting to run into that wall of writer’s block again. Besides, it’s probably more interesting for readers of this post who are so inclined (you know who you are) to read these two books (they’re both worth it) and talk about them. My memory is sufficiently bad that I plan to reread both books in a year’s time in reverse order. It will be very interesting to see how my thoughts of each may change based on something so happenstance as the order in which I read them.

*Disclosure – I received an ARC of Opening Up for review consideration. I purchased my copy of For Real.* 

When books make you go hmmm

While I certainly do not possess Jane Bennett’s sweetness of temper, angelic goodness, or locally famous beauty, I do have her habit of thinking well of people, making excuses for their less-than-savory behavior. I worry sometimes that this habit spills over into my reading, making me — perhaps — a sympathetic and uncritical reader. It’s not that I turn off my brain or fail to notice a book’s issues, exactly, yet I struggle with a reticence to expound on the things that didn’t work in favor of the things that did. If you’ve read more than four or five posts on this blog you realize that this reticence does not altogether stop me from making critical remarks, but it is difficult for me to be critical.

Perhaps now you understand why there’s been so much silence around here. I had things going on elsewhere in my life, and I couldn’t spare the expense of energy required to push through my inclination to just love everything (and ignore the things I can’t love). Well, I had two weeks off work to rest (including a few days that were completely free of obligations. It was wonderful, and I should make it more of a habit to take self-care days off from time to time..

Anyway, a while back, I read He’s No Prince Charming by debut author Elle Daniels, and I wanted (so much) to love it, but… well, read on.

A wounded beast . . .

It took Marcus Bradley forever to find a suitable bride. And then he lost her—all because some meddling matchmaker with a crazy notion about “true love” helped her elope with another man. Now, to save his sister from a terrible marriage alliance, he needs a replacement—an heiress, to be exact . . . and he knows just the woman to help him find one.

A spirited beauty . . .

Danielle Strafford believes everyone deserves a fairytale ending—even the monstrously scarred and notoriously brooding Marquis of Fleetwood. Not that he’s left her a choice. If she doesn’t help him secure a wife—by any means necessary—he’ll reveal her scandalous secrets.

A passion that will consume them both

The more time Marcus spends with Danielle, the less interested he is in any other woman. But the Beast must do the impossible: keep from losing his heart to a Beauty he is destined to lose.

As a reader of genre fiction, I know what kinds of stories appeal to me (generally) and which do not. This reading approach isn’t limited to genre romance, of course. Some SFF readers will prefer books that highlight adventure, perhaps, or are set in space, or depict alternate realities. In my romance fiction reading, I find the following tropes are safe bets (or are particularly interesting, if not necessarily “safe”):

  1. Fairy tale-based stories, especially beauty and the beast stories;
  2. Mythology-based stories or ones that draw on elements from the classics;
  3. Marriage of convenience, secret baby, friends to lovers, or unrequited love plots;
  4. The following character tropes: wounded hero, bluestocking heroine (this one is frequently problematic, but I find it interesting), tall heroines (for reasons), virgin heroes and/or experienced heroines, heroines who run their own businesses; grumpy heroes; characters based on Austen characters;
  5. Cross-class romances and/or other types of imbalances.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s a long enough list for now. Anyway, just from reading the blurb, I could see that He’s No Prince Charming is a beauty and the beast story with a wounded hero (who might also be grumpy). That was enough to prompt me to request the book on Netgalley. Within the first few pages, I learned the heroine runs her own business (a clandestine service aiding women seeking to escape from unwelcome betrothals by eloping with their true loves; she runs this business out of a bookstore operated by her first clients.). So, you know, the book has quite a few ticks in its favor as far as my reading biases are concerned. Also, it’s Daniels’ first book, and I harbor a soft spot for debut novels.

So what went wrong, you ask? Be warned, there be spoilers ahead.

  1. The premise, that Marcus needs to marry an heiress in order to protect his sister from her betrothal to a dangerous man, takes a strange turn after Marcus sees Danni help his betrothed elope with another man; Marcus figures the only solution is to blackmail Danni into helping him kidnap an heiress. Look, I get that beauty and the beast stories pretty much always involve some element of Stockholm Syndrome, but I have a hard time caring about characters (that’s right: both of ’em) who break into a woman’s home, drug her, and carry her off to a waiting carriage. That Danni ends up knocked out and kidnapped herself doesn’t, ultimately, make that big a difference to me. She’s still a kidnapper.
  2. What happens next? All the things. On the road to Gretna Green, the villain hero and his victims are set upon by highwaymen (gypsy highwaymen, at that), their coachman is shot, and the true victim is kidnapped (again) by the highwaymen. Before the gypsies abscond with her, they threaten her with gang rape, but — you know — in a fun way. It’s all very lighthearted. The villains hero and heroine, take off on foot to kidnap her back rescue her, but they have no idea where they’re going and, after a storm blows up, they take shelter in an abandoned cabin, and the hero has an epic panic attack. Kissing happens, because reasons. The next day, the heroine is nearly trampled by a horse, but eventually they make their way to an inn. Over the next few days, they search for the gypsies while running from soldiers (who are trying to rescue the kidnap victim); the villain hero is shot (by the soldiers), but somehow they still manage to find the gypsy camp to re-kidnap rescue her. Eventually (of course), Marcus is arrested for kidnapping an Admiral’s daughter, but Danni convinces her MP father to reverse the charges against him (because love). It stretches plausibility that any all of those events would occur in one story. Kidnapping and highwaymen? and being shot?
  3. Danni makey no sensey. She believes in love matches so sincerely that she runs a business helping hapless women escape loveless marriages, yet she considers herself as good as betrothed to an earl she doesn’t love because she wants to please her depressive father. She goes along with Marcus’ blackmail and helps him kidnap the Admiral’s daughter, yet she thinks it’s wrong. At some point, Danni realizes that she loves Marcus (because?), but she’s reluctant to admit to him that she’s all the heiress he needs (because?). (What results is a dilemma for Marcus that the reader knows is bollocks: he thinks he has to fight his attraction to Danni in order to save his sister, but readers know that the only impediment is Danni’s dishonesty.) After Danni and Marcus’ awkward sex scene, she admits her heiress state, but he gets arrested almost immediately, so there’s no resolution.
  4. Oh, God, the ending. Danni manages to convince her father to have the charges against Marcus dropped (because love, but — really — the charges are absolutely just. He kidnapped that girl!). But then…. nothing. The ending peters off into anticlimax until the characters finally have the big I love you conversation. Of course, who cares?
  5. There’s a mystery fairy godmother (who may or may not be Marcus’ living — or even dead — mother). She provides a very strange deus ex machina via ballgowns but is otherwise completely unexplained.
  6. I  also had issues with voice (characters cracking unfunny jokes when they should be appalled by certain events).

Soooo, yeah. Why did I keep reading? I have no idea.

I was tempted just to ignore the book, because I honestly couldn’t think of anything nice to say about it (other than that I should have liked it, which isn’t all that positive, actually). But then I wondered, why does that matter? Do I need to be balanced? Do I need or want to be so stifled by my disinclination to give offense (unless I’m thoroughly pissed off by something) that I say nothing at all? And who would I be offending? What’s the point of blogging about books if I’m going to write only about the ones I loved, the ones I liked with some reservations, or the ones that made me Yosemite-Sam angry?

It’s all well and good to be a Jane Bennett in the world, to be easy-going and patient with others, but it’s not a rational way to read books. And, honestly, I don’t read books that way. Bad writing, strange plots, and questionable content stick out, and even though I finish nearly all the books I start, I do frequently regret my decision to keep reading. All of these things (and more) belong in book discussions. While I’m too tired right now to prove it, I think there must be a logical fallacy in assuming that kindness and honesty are mutually exclusive.

So, there it is. I’m really hoping that this is the end of my hiatus (and cowardice), because I read 200 books in 2014, and I think it’s time I started talking about (some of) them.

* FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley via NetGalley for review consideration. Somewhat obviously, my opinion is my own. *

Some thoughts on romance novels and female friendship

I read Tawny Weber’s A SEAL’s Salvation last week.  I liked a lot of things about the book, but I found its depiction of female friendship rather problematic.  I’m hoping it’s just me.

 Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Where navy SEAL “Bad Ass” Brody Lane goes, trouble follows. Being run out of his hometown years ago for misbehaving with Genna Reilly—the sheriff’s daughter—was one thing. Now Brody is about to step into real danger. Not the suggestive letters he’s been exchanging with Genna, but the kind of trouble that can send a soldier home injured and broken inside…

Genna’s entire life has been orchestrated by her family. The right job. The right friends. Enough! Brody’s return offers the promise of lust-filled pleasures. Of flesh teased and tasted. She’s not expecting to find a soldier with distant eyes who has secluded himself from the world. But this good girl knows exactly how to bring a bad boy back to life….

Some of you probably know already why I wanted to read this book.  It’s that injured hero trope, calling out to my soul and promising compelling and emotionally satisfying entertainment.  And the blurb also hinted at one of my favorite heroine tropes: the heroine who gets her shit together and embraces her true self.  It was a foregone conclusion that I’d enjoy the story, considering the elements it’s composed of, and I did.

I loved Genna’s penchant for baking, for example, and her moxie and entrepreneurship.  I loved Brody’s Grandma.  I loved Brody.  And those letters Genna and Brody exchanged before his injury were absolutely my favorite part of the book.

In fact, I liked pretty much every element of the story except one: Genna’s friends.  Maybe I’m just the luckiest damn person on the planet for having truly awesome women as friends (I totally am), and maybe that extreme good luck skews my perception of reality, but I really find it jarring when female friends in romance novels are depicted as crazy bitches or just as bad friends.

At the beginning of A SEAL’s Salvation, Genna’s best friend Macy is living with her while planning all the last-minute details before her epic, but ultimately rather sad, wedding.  Macy spends a lot of time trying to convince Genna to date this guy whom Genna doesn’t like, doesn’t find attractive, and who kind of creeped her out on their first and only date (he collects troll dolls.).  When Genna points out all the reasons that she doesn’t want to date troll-collecting Stewart, Macy suggests that maybe Genna should go out with Stewart anyway, because it would make Genna’s parents so happy.

Later on, Macy — who thinks Brody is a Very Bad Guy — threatens to tell Genna’s outrageously overprotective parents about their relationship because… ?? Genna is 27 years old.  And this is Genna’s best friend.  In every appearance in the book, Macy is critical of Genna and dismissive of Brody (and not even because she’s genuinely concerned for Genna).  In Genna’s darkest hour towards the end of the book (between conflict and resolution), her last wish is to call her friends.  She’d rather be alone, and that makes perfect sense. Her friends suck.

Now… I’m sorry, but that’s just not friendship, and it makes me feel ragey.  And, again, maybe I’m just the luckiest woman alive to have such super awesome lady friends (and a few dudes, as well) — none of my friends would ever try to push me into dating any dude who didn’t light my fire (it’s moot, but whatever) and none of them would ever EVAR so disrespect my judgment as to tattle on me, a grown woman!, to my parents.  Come the fuck on — but I doubt I’m the only woman with fantastic friends, and it drives me wonky when this real friendship, often the most important thing in a woman’s life, doesn’t show up in the romance novels I read.

So, last week I wrote on Book Bloggers International about romance novels as entertainment, catharsis, and activism, and I paid particular attention to Courtney Milan’s entire body of work (but I highlighted her most recent release, The Countess Conspiracy), Tessa Dare’s latest, Romancing the Duke, and Robin York’s New Adult release, Deeper.  Do you know what else those three books have in common?  Awesome depictions of friendship.

The Countess Conspiracy is the latest in Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series, and it tackles some pretty hefty subjects, most of which are best discovered while reading the book.  (As an aside, one of my favorite things about Milan’s writing is that she respects her characters’ privacy and allows them to reveal themselves to readers over the course of the book.)  This book so beautifully depicts female friendship.  Between Jane, Minnie, and Violet, there develops a true friendship based on mutual appreciation and respect (Jane and Minnie are the heroines of the first two full novels in this series.).  Between Violet and Alice there develops a friendship between equals and colleagues that is a wonder to behold because of its resemblance to friendship among male colleagues, and yet it is uniquely feminine and the more powerful because of that femininity.  I wish we got to see more of it (but I understand that it’s sort of beside the point, as far as the narrative is concerned.)

Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) and I wrote another of our dueling reviews (this one with an actual disagreement in it!) about Romancing the Duke, Tessa Dare’s latest, that discusses the important role friendship plays in the book.  I’m not going to bother reiterating our arguments here… so go check it out!  It’s pretty great, I think.

Finally, there’s Robin York’s Deeper, wherein heroine Caroline (I just had to put those three words together. Sorry.) finds herself the victim of revenge porn attacks started by her slimeball of an ex-boyfriend and picked up by a cadre of trolls who use images of her naked body to shame and dehumanize her.  In the wake of all these revenge porn attacks — that occur not just once and done but again and again and again — Caroline and West forge a cautious not-quite-friendship that is the focus of this book told in shifting-perspective, first-person-present narration.  But it is through Caroline’s friendships with her roommate, the members of the rugby team she joins, and, to an extent, with West’s roommate (Sorry — I’m awful with remembering character names, and I don’t have my copy of the book with me) that Caroline discovers her strength and begins to heal.

So, there you go.  If you find yourself interested in any of these books, just click on their cover images to be transported to their page on Goodreads.  A SEAL’s Salvation was released on January 21, 2014 by Harlequin.  For more information about Tawny Weber, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of A SEAL’s Salvation from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I purchased the other books.*

The relevance of erotica to readers – a guest post by K D Grace

You know how sometimes when you finish a book, you think, my God, I just want to crawl into that person’s brain and hang out for a while?  (It’s not just me, right?)  Well, that’s what I thought when I finished The Initiation of Ms. Holly by K D Grace.  So when an email appeared inviting me to participate in a blog tour promoting the book and offering the opportunity to host a guest post by K D, I was all over it like ants on honey.  Bonus: we all get to crawl into her brain for about 800 words.  Read on, friends.

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First of all, I’d like to say how much I appreciate being invited over to Reading with Analysis to talk about one of my very favorite topics, the relevance of erotica to readers.

Writing about sex is writing about human connectedness on a very visceral level. The need to be intimate with another human being is the driving force behind romance, and sex is the tool that gives the writer, as well as the reader, a point of contact and a level of intimacy and understanding with the character that can be achieved in no other way. Sex in story is always a revelatory act. It exposes the character at his or her most vulnerable, and those vulnerabilities are the places where story is born.

Sex in story is the fictional equivalent of finger-printing the characters. How characters approach sex, how they think about sex, what neuroses they bring into the bedroom with them, all of these elements mark the character as unique. And once the character has had sex, for the rest of the story, that character will always be viewed through the filter of his or her sexuality. If I want to expose the very essence of my characters, I write them having sex, and then I know who they are, and so will my readers.

Good stories involve characters being acted upon by events, situations, circumstances beyond their control and the chaos that results. There are few parts of our human nature we struggle more fiercely to control than sexuality. Ultimately, sex makes people uncomfortable, and anything that makes people uncomfortable is a fabulous tool for fiction. Sex can be the driving force behind a story or it can be the catalyst that breaks through and changes everything. It can be the nagging little push, it can be the shining revelation, it can be the dark hidden secret. But what it will always do is shake things up, even if it’s just a little bit. What it will always do is reveal our characters in ways we’ve never seen them before. What it will always do is give us startling glimpses into the psyche of the human animal, into what drives us, what frightens us, what makes us happy, what makes us love, what makes us hate. It will do all of these things because it’s almost impossible for our characters to keep their defences in place when they’re naked, hormone drunk, and fucking.

It’s not just the sex act itself that helps create the loss of control and gives us intimate insights into characters. A whole new world of chaos and voyeuristic excitement for our reader happens when we writers get inside our characters’ heads and see what they think about sex. Do they feel guilty, do they feel driven, do they feel lust, do they feel romantic, do they feel desperation, do they feel joy, do they feel anger? What does their sexual baggage look like, and what acts does it drive them to?

What separates human sexuality from the sexuality of our animal cousins is that we spend so damn much time thinking about sex. So much of human sexuality takes place in the mind, and so much of a good story comes from knowing what’s going on in the heads of the characters. We think about sex, we reflect on sex, we look forward to sex, we speculate about sex. We repent of sex, we rejoice in sex, we scheme and plan to get sex. For the structure of the story, thoughts of sex, a character’s attitudes toward sex, a character’s responses to sex and the consequences created by sex are like ripples on a pond, having far reaching implications and creating endless opportunities for little whirlpools of chaos to erupt, even in a story that has relatively little sex in it.

That we find it necessary to have a separate genre for stories that we deem too sexual says a lot about the neurotic relationship Western culture has with the human body and with sex. No other human drive in literature is separated out as its own genre nor is any other genre so highly policed. But then again, no other human drive defines humanity quite like sexuality does.

We are sexual animals. There’s no getting round that fact. It’s biology. Therefore to write a story without sex is like writing a story in which people never eat, never sleep, never talk, never interact with each other. Sex is a part of who we are, and if we want our characters to be well-rounded, if we want our readers to have truly intimate views of them, then sex will be there, even if it’s only lurking in the background waiting to sneak out, catch a character with her defences down and cause a little chaos.

Excerpt from The Initiation of Ms. Holly:

In one of the more intimate dining rooms the woman guided Rita to a lushly upholstered booth near the back away from the dance floor and the few other diners who occupied the room.

‘Edward will join you shortly.’ With that, the woman turned on you-could-only-afford-to-fuck-me-in-your-dreams stilettos and retreated back through the maze of rooms.

Before she was out of sight, a server approached Rita’s table with two glasses and a bottle of Moët et Chandon on ice. ‘I’m Aurora.’ She sat her burden down on the table.  ‘Edward has instructed me to apologize for his small delay.’ It was only her name and a slight feminine pout that assured Rita Aurora was actually a woman. Her androgynous features were accentuated by white blond hair cropped short. She was dressed in a black suit, waist coat and tie, completely camouflaging the swell of her small breasts. When she spoke, even her voice was deep, and gravelly. ‘There is one other thing Edward asked me to give you.’ From her pocket, the waitress produced a black velvet blindfold. ‘He asks that you wear this. He said you would understand.’

A frisson of anticipation laced with the tiniest hint of fear ran up Rita’s spine and accumulated at the tips of her nipples as the waitress stepped behind her and secured the blindfold. That done, she filled a glass and placed it in Rita’s hand. ‘Enjoy the fizz,’ she said. Then she left.

The scent of oregano and basil and other more subtle seasonings blended with the smell of expensive perfume. Glasses clinked, people laughed, and somewhere in the background the melodic strains of String of Pearls wafted on the air. She had only just tasted the champagne when a warm body scooted into the booth next to her. She recognize Edward’s scent a split second before his hand cupped her cheek and his mouth covered hers, familiar territory, she thought, as her tongue became reacquainted with his.

‘I hope you don’t mind the blindfold,’ he said when he came up for air. He slid warm fingers under the spaghetti straps and caressing her left shoulder. ‘Being in the dark was so much fun last time.’

She ran a hand over his cheek, raking a thumb lightly over a fluttering eyelid. ‘What about you? You’re not wearing a blindfold. That’s hardly fair.’

He chuckled, and she felt his warm breath against her earlobe. ‘I never said I play fair. I was right though. You are exquisite, but I wouldn’t have imagined your hair to be chestnut’ He caressed her tresses, pushing a strand back behind her shoulders to fondle her nape. ‘For some reason I was certain that cascade of silk would be strawberry blonde.’ He ran his other hand up the outside of her thigh, toying with the exposed edge of her garter belt, making her squirm. ‘Guess in some cases, there’s just no substitute for the sense of sight.’

‘But I want to see you too. I want to know what you look like.’

‘You will in good time. That is if you want to play my little game. Of course you could take off the blindfold. I can’t stop you, but admit it, it’s fun not knowing. A bit of an adventure, an initiation almost.’

‘An initiation?’

‘Yeah, you know, at the beginning, when a man and a woman are just getting to know each other, it’s like an initiation, don’t you think?’

‘I never thought of it like that, kind of like a hazing?’

He chuckled. ‘Can be. Could be, if you want it to be.’ He nipped her earlobe, ‘Or maybe like an induction into some secret cult with secret rituals of wild, kinky sex.’

‘Mmm. Sounds good. Where do I sign up?’

Another chuckle. ‘All you have to do is keep the blindfold on until I say you can take it off. Let your other senses do the work.’ His finger slipped beneath the suspender to stroke her thigh, making concentration next to impossible.

‘I’ve always wanted to be a member of a secret sex cult.’ Breathing was becoming more of an effort as his touch became more insistent. ‘Okay then. I’m in. Have your way with me.’

There was a long moment of silence, and for a split second Rita wondered if she had said something wrong, if she been too forward, too quick with her answer. But just when she was about to back track, he leaned in and kissed her softly on the mouth. She could almost hear his heart beating in his words when at last he spoke. ‘Then welcome to your new playground.’ His hand slipped underneath the spaghetti straps to cup her breast and stroke her engorged areola. ‘Expensive dress?’

‘What?’ Intimidation knotted her stomach. ‘Does it matter?’

‘Not really.’ She could hear him filling the champagne flute. ‘I’ll buy you a new one.’ He lifted the glass to her lips. Just as the taste hit her tongue he pulled it away and she felt a cold wet splash over her left breast. She stifled a yelp, but not before his lips clamped down tight on her drenched nipple, and the friction of tongue and teeth on wet silk caused delicious shock waves down her belly and below.

‘You know,’ he said between sucklings, ‘at the command of Louis 15th, the original champagne glass was said to have been shaped like the breasts of his mistress, Madame Pompadour. I can understand why. Once you’ve suckled champagne from a beautiful breast champagne alone, no matter how expensive, isn’t nearly as nice.’

Another cold splash across both breasts and down her cleavage. She gasped and held him to her as he shoved down the spaghetti straps and freed her into his hungry mouth. ‘What if people are watching?’ she whispered.

‘Don’t worry. I know the owner,’ he whispered. ‘There’s one cup even more perfect than Louis’s design.’

About K D Grace:

K D Grace believes Freud was right. In the end, it really IS all about sex, well sex and love. And nobody’s happier about that than she is, otherwise, what would she write about?

When she’s not writing, K D is veg gardening. When she’s not gardening, she’s walking. She walks her stories, and she’s serious about it. She and her husband have walked Coast to Coast across England, along with several other long-distance routes. For her, inspiration is directly proportionate to how quickly she wears out a pair of walking boots. She also enjoys martial arts, reading, watching the birds and anything that gets her outdoors.

K D has erotica published with SourceBooks, Xcite Books, Harper Collins Mischief Books, Mammoth, Cleis Press, Black Lace, Erotic Review, Ravenous Romance, Sweetmeats Press and others.

K D’s critically acclaimed erotic romance novels include, The Initiation of Ms Holly, The Pet Shop. Her paranormal erotic novel, Body Temperature and Rising, the first book of her Lakeland Heatwave trilogy, was listed as honorable mention on Violet Blue’s Top 12 Sex Books for 2011. Books two and three, Riding the Ether, and Elemental Fire, are now also available. She was nominated for ETO’s Best Erotic Author 2013.

K D Grace also writes hot romance as Grace Marshall. An Executive Decision, Identity Crisis, The Exhibition are all available.

Find K D Here:                                                                  

Websites: http://kdgrace.co.uk/ and http://gracemarshallromance.co.uk/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KDGraceAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KD_Grace and http://twitter.com/GM_Romance

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/kdgraceauthor/

The ultimate in defies description – Blood Mate by Kitty Thomas

Most of the time, I find genre classifications very helpful.  On a certain level, I enjoy knowing what to expect when I approach a book.  It makes for an easier reading experience, right?  When you’re in the mood for a story with equal parts love and adventure, you might be happiest with a romp. When you’re in the mood for an adventure that pushes the boundaries of the known world, you might be happiest with some science fiction.  When you’re in the mood for a story that explores sexuality, you might enjoy some erotica.  Genres make it easier to match books to your reading mood, and that can make for happier reading.

But sometimes I wonder if it also produces more complacent reading.  If you know what to expect going into a book and if your expectations are usually met, isn’t it easy to start reading to your expectations, finding in your reading only what you expect to find?  And when that method of reading becomes your comfortable habit — it’s so easy — what’s going to make you break free?

When I started reading Blood Mate, I had no idea what to expect.  Was it paranormal? Yeah, I guess… I mean, it’s about a vampire, so I guess it qualifies.  Was it a romance? No, not really. Was it erotica? Ish? Was it dark erotica?  Sort of, but it’s not actually as dark as you’d expect.  So what is it?  It’s exactly what it says it is: a dark fairy tale.

Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Blood Mate, a dark fairy tale…

Nicole has been happily married to big shot attorney, Dominic Rose for ten years, but soon after their anniversary he grows cold—as if she doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, another man has been pursuing her far too intently for comfort.

August Corinth is a six-hundred-year-old vampire, cursed to kill and suffer the pain of his victims each night until he can find the one woman who can resist his thrall, his blood mate. Once he’s found her, there are no lines he won’t cross to claim the promised salvation even if it means taking away everything and everyone she loves.

I found, reading it, that when I took it at literal face value, I didn’t really get what was going on, and I didn’t like it much.  But I took an Olympics-induced break about halfway through and spent a few days thinking about the story, about my expectations, and about whether I was reading it properly.  I kept going back to that subtitle, a dark fairy tale.

Subtitles are important.

When I started reading Blood Mate as a fairy tale, it transformed.  So I went back to the beginning and started it again, approaching it the way I would a myth or epic poem.  August is full of that classic, epic arrogance and selfishness, character traits that seem out of place in a modern story but fit right in an epic tale.

(Epics are full of these douchey dude characters who manipulate and destroy — often specifically destroying the lady characters — and then bitch and moan when everything doesn’t turn out perfectly for them.  Often, it takes the intervention of the gods to rework the human ending and pitch it in favor of the douchey dude.  Hey, Odysseus, I’m looking at you.)

From his first appearance in Blood Mate, August Corinth typifies the epic douchebag.  He is remarkably self-centered, and his response to every hint of adversity is self-pity and a fundamental expectation that his happiness trumps everything.  He is, then, in addition to being an actual vampire with the fangs and the blood sucking, an emotional vampire, toxic in his selfishness, forever taking, demanding everything out of life.  The emotional vampirism goes one further as August uses his bond with Nicole to remove her painful emotions after the various traumas she experiences at his hands.

He’s not a damn romantic hero, and I don’t think he’s cast as one.

On the flip side, there’s Nicole, who’s kind of a cipher, clinging to seemingly insignificant pieces of identity as she lives in the shadow of first one then another man who claims her as mate.  With her husband, Nicole clings to her unnecessary job and preference for sweet coffee drinks.  With August, Nicole clings to her identity as Dominic’s beloved and struggles to maintain her sense of self as all her emotions are leeched away.

If you try to read the story in a straightforward and modern way, expecting the kinds of things you usually expect, you’ll probably be disappointed.  There isn’t really a resolution for August, Nicole, or Dominic.  August doesn’t exactly grow in self-awareness, and Nicole doesn’t achieve any clear peace or positive reward for all her sacrifice and struggle.  And Dominic… I think maybe that guy’s more of a winner than either August or Corinth.

But, if you abandon your expectations — more than that, if you actively question why you even have those expectations in the first place — you’re in for an interesting read and an even more interesting period of reflection after the reading is done.  Who is the hero in this book? Who is the victim? Whose path is righteous? Who wins at the end? And, honestly, why do we approach books expecting a clear winner or loser?

I’ll be honest… I’m not really sure what the ending of Blood Mate is all about.  I’m a reasonably intelligent human being, but the ending — kind of like the last scene of The Sopranos — leaves a big question mark for readers and refuses to make it easy on us.  So what happened and what does it all mean? That’s for you to decide. And isn’t it fucking awesome that you have that kind of power as a reader?

Blood Mate was released by the author on January 30, 2014.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  If you’re curious about Kitty Thomas, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Confessions of a self-aware addict – The story of 29 books

I’ve heard that the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem, so here goes.  Oh Internet, I have a deep and shameful secret to confess.  I am hopelessly addicted to Stephanie Laurens books.  It started with this one, believe it or not.

I bought it on a whim, and it drew me in with its interesting vocabulary (honestly, susurrate, cynosurelimned?) and fabulous old lady characters.  Then I bought and read all of these books, because I am, clearly, an idiot.

Oh. My. God.  It’s horrifying to see all those covers laid out like that…

And do you know what?  They are all pretty much the same book, just with different physical descriptions (and, in the fine strokes, different character descriptions, but the broad strokes are all the same) and, for the most part, a different type of intrigue or danger that the characters face together while deciding whether or not to boink and whether or not to marry (spoiler alert: the answer is always yes.).  In fact, perhaps the only one truly worth reading is the first one: Devil’s Bride, because it (alone) doesn’t rely on poor communication as a plot and conflict device.

These books contain (1) an alpha male who is handsome, rich, compelling, good in the sack (and so experienced–and it’s uncomfortable that the dude’s experience gets mentioned so often–that you have to wonder how all these alpha males manged to avoid social diseases), and feeling a bit jaded and restless with his life–a.k.a. primed for matrimony; (2) a strong female who has some past experience or quirky character trait that creates a desire (a) never to marry without a solid belief that she is entering a love match, (b) the idea that this solid belief can be obtained only by the gentleman saying, “I love you,” and (c) the disinclination ever to express this desire in words that the poor hero could ever understand; (3) some sort of life-threatening intrigue or danger that both throws the hero and heroine together often enough for them to boink occasionally and, towards the end of the story, places the heroine’s life in danger so that the intelligence-challenged hero can realize, finally, that he loves her–and can tell her so in those words–so that she can finally agree to marry him.  These books also contain multiple episodes of the same bizarre sex scene, in which the characters’ boinking creates (what I hope is) a metaphorical aurora borealis of afterglow.

I know, right?!  Why did I read 28 versions of the same story?  Clearly, I have an illness.

And, actually, I read 29.

I know! It’s painful.  Anyway, The Lady Risks All was released last fall, and I really tried to hold out, but I failed.  I held out all of two weeks before I bought the book, read it, and then felt all the awful feels.  Was it the same plot all over again?  Yep.  Was it pretty much the same characters all over again?  Yep, for the most part.  Did the sex scenes involve sunbursts and starbeams and being both wracked and wrecked while tossed on the far shore the island people go to, if Laurens is to be believed, after they’ve had an orgasm and are floating in the sea of sated bliss?  Yes, yes it did.

Anyway, there’s a new Laurens book out now, and I need your help, friends, in resisting its insidious call.  Do any of you have this illness, too (towards different authors, perhaps)?  Do you find yourself buying and reading these books and then wondering, why did I do that?! I knew it would be bad!  Is there a cure?