Category Archives: erotica

In Bed with a Highlander – Maya Banks

In my quest to decipher just what inspires a seven-figure advance to a romance novelist, I tucked into a different series by Maya Banks. In Bed with a Highlander was definitely a better story than the  quasi-military pandering and weird paranormal oddities in the last Banks book I read. This one has a classic story of gruff lord of the keep–laird in this case as we are in Scotland–falling under the spell of the obstinate and spunky young woman who enters his protection unwillingly but eventually romps with great enthusiasm in his bed. Plots of regicide, internal perfidy, threats and violence abound. The characters were as unstable as romance characters usually are–tough and then unaccountably shy and then tough again, no real substance to them. But attractive, volatile, highly-sexed, multi-orgasmic and beset by battles at every turn.

The oddest thing is the way these books are slapped together and marketed, as if the story there is exists only to fill the pages with predictable dangers and sex–and then more danger and more sex, punctuated by startling moments of personal enlightenment in which the main players admit that they love each other. It’s a convention of the genre; it’s fine. But the cover! The cover of In Bed… was truly weird. A battle-scarred Scottish laird, muscled and shaggy, is depicted as a hairless, shirtless bodybuilder from Venice, California wearing a pair of shorts. The heroine, a Scottish bastard with green eyes, Celtic curling hair and clothes of the period is a sinuous Asian vamp with long dark hair and a sort of blue teddy-like thing that has just a little too much fabric in it to be from Victoria’s Secret.  Does this indicate that the publisher believes the intended audience for a Scottish period romance is too stupid to require more than half-naked bodies in a clinch set against a backdrop of green tartan? Tacky.

I’m getting this genre a bit now.  I’ll probably need a few more books to suss out why it is so appealing as a storyline to so many people.  Romance sells like hotcakes–hot romance like hotcakes with real maple syrup. Is it Cinderella for grown-ups, or Sleeping Beauty maybe? I’m puzzled at the flattened-out nature of it but that might just be because I’m not reading more complex, nuanced versions of the basic plot. Murder mysteries are more satisfying, in general, although the badly written ones are as bad as anything unreadable, whatever the genre. So, no more contemporary military types with their bulging jeans and Wal-Mart spectrum of emotions.  I might hunt for historical romantica so there is at least some marginal world-building to examine in between the sighs, moans, poisoned goblets of ale and clashing of bloody swords.

In Bed with a Highlander (McCabe Trilogy)   Maya Banks | Ballantine Books  2011

Reckless Pleasures – Tori Carrington

For some reason which now escapes me, I checked out a bunch of romances from the library the other day. I haven’t read very much in the genre and I suppose I figured I might as well learn something about it. So far, it’s a little thin but probably safely true to form. Reckless Pleasures is a slightly graphic love/sex story that involves a longtime love affair between an ex-marine and an activated reserve (really, that wasn’t supposed to be an awful pun), a triangle with a best friend, topical references to Afghanistan and Iraq, a private security firm, an improbable search for a missing child in the Florida swamps and a ton of body heat, regret, guilt, heartbreak, etc., etc.

Tori Carrington is a duo with a number of hot paperback romances to their credit so I think this story line was created for a real demographic and likely appeals to its intended audience perfectly. Girl and guy have fabulous sex before he ships out. They can’t stand being away from each other. All kinds of love and heartbreak between two tough characters who wear their protective shells like Kevlar vests. They also wear Kevlar vests. Super-dramatic small-child-goes-missing-along-with-her-pink-bike event. Private security firm of ex-marines to the rescue. Some casual sex to relieve tension. Dude returns from service wounded. Uh oh.

There is more to the story than erotica but not much more. There is a lot of angst instead of sex for long stretches. The resolution leaves everyone sadder but wiser and throws in some revelations about families of origin that are meant to enlighten. If you like nearly perfect physical specimens getting it on with some actual story wrapped around the clinches, Reckless Pleasures works fine. Some of the other romances I grabbed are variations on the genre so I’m reserving judgment until I read a few more.

Reckless Pleasures (Harlequin Blaze)   Tori Carrington |  Harlequin   2011

Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James

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This post will be brief because Fifty Shades of Grey was long. Too long. I thought it would be as unreadable as those bestsellers that boggle the mind with bad writing as soon as you crack them open. It was not. It was perfectly readable.  And it was certainly titillating, for a while. But, in the end, it’s just Twilight with all the dirty bits left in–not very dirty bits, mind you. The story hypes itself about being way out there and so depraved. It isn’t. What it is is another  deluded-woman-believes-she-can-save-an-abusive-screwed-up-guy-who-is-all- about-himself story, even as she’s subsuming her own life so she can be all about himself, too. And there is plenty of money and first-class-high-end everything–because this flawed human heartthrob is richer than the vampire Cullens. Extravagant gifts appear at every turn, swag that Our Heroine is morally bound to refuse because she has Too Much Self Respect and Integrity to be bought off. Huh?

The plot is a tease about sex that is a tease–tiresome. Ana, the Bella of the fanfic from which the three Fifty Shades books developed, creates complications and problems like a deranged spider spinning useless webs in mid-air–just to stretch things out. Because Not Much Happens. For 500 pages. And then it all goes to hell in about a page and a half. End of book. Buy the next one to see if she stumbles back into his bed, bondage, whatever. Oh, sigh.  The protagonist, Ana, is alleged to have a fantastic GPA. Not believable as she is too stupid to get off the seesaw of Mr. Fab Rich Guy with Amazing Good Looks Who is Tortured by Incidents from His Past Which He Cannot Bear to Reveal. He smiles. She relaxes. He frowns. Her world goes to sh*t in a heartbeat.  They have nonstop, high-intensity, earth-shattering, orgasmic sex every couple of pages and barely exist between encounters. The e-mail repartee is the best thing in the book–and it is clever.  

But Fifty Shades of Grey is erotica so what did I expect? Emma? Although I would rather have stayed up until 4 in the morning reading Emma.  But now I know what is burning up Kindles faster than global warming wildfires. So I can relate to the zeitgeist. Even if it is at least a hundred pages too long.

Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy   E. L. James | Vintage Books  2012