Wednesday, January 16, 2013

TBR Challenge 2013: The Things That Make Me Give In

The Book: The Things That Make Me Give In by Charlotte Stein

The Particulars: Erotica single author anthology, Black Lace, 2010, In Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I was so blown away by Stein's short story in the multi-author anthology Obsessed: Erotic Romance For Women that I immediately went looking for more of her work.  This anthology was already on my wish list, so I bought it brand-spankin'-new.

The Review:  After reading and loving Restraint last November, I've been itching to go on a Stein binge - but alas, pesky review books waiting for me.  Luckily this anthology worked well with this month's TBR Challenge theme, so I could kill two birds as it were.  Read more Stein and complete my January challenge to read "short."  This anthology features 15 short stories that read like vignettes.  Yeah, if you're looking for deep character development, it just doesn't happen here.  Stein introduces her characters via their sexual identities, and given the short word count on all of these stories that's essentially as far as the reader gets to know them.  This sort of thing works for me as an erotica reader, although admittedly I can understand how it won't for others.  Here's a brief rundown of what's featured between the covers....

Because I Made You So features a female college student and a male professor who teaches a course on Romantic Literature.  She starts spinning fantasies, jotting down a purple-prose-bodice-ripper style story featuring herself and her professor as the "hero."  And naturally, she ends up turning it in to fulfill a class assignment.  Gee, wonder what will happen next?  A really sexy story that nicely tweaks old school romance conventions.

Spying is a voyeuristic story featuring a heroine who ends up spying on the hero in the building next door.  They enter into a "relationship" of sorts, putting on shows for one another.  A solid voyeuristic story, but albeit, kinda sad.  I felt sorry for these two people at the end.  They seemed incapable of moving forward.  Melancholy erotica.

Lessons is a role reversal story featuring a smarty-smart heroine tutoring two big dumb jocks.  I can see some readers having issues with the heroine "using" the two guys, and essentially not thinking very highly of them - but I liked it.  I like when erotica explores role reversals, and allows the heroines to be "just as bad" as the heroes.  On that score, this one works.

Yes/ is the first story in a duet featuring a married couple.  As per an agreement, the heroine gets a day where she's calling the shots.  Whatever she wants to do in bed?  Yeah, the hero does it.  Spicy, sexy, featuring a dominant heroine who is dominant without being tricked out in latex and leather.

Dirty Disgusting You features an unsatisfied married woman who enters into an affair with a friend of her hubby's.  Hubby ain't interested in her, BFF very much is - and the two men couldn't be more opposite from each other.  The woman screwing around with a guy who is "beneath" her is a theme Stein has explored before, and this story manages to be funny, sexy and sad all at the same time.  It also features this epic line, where the heroine describes her life while "dropping off files" to the BFF as a favor to hubby (which is how the affair begins): "I often drop things off.  This is my life - files, dry cleaning, my dignity."

Her Father Disapproves features a heroine hot for one of her father's associates, and now that they're all at Daddy's country house together?  Yeah, she's going to take the bull by the horns.  This is another story that is sexy and funny (she's pushing, he's resisting), although the ending strained a little for me.

For You is a really interesting, brave story that as a nurse's daughter I found really captivating.  Heroine is a nurse.  Hero is a patient, essentially near death hoping his number is called for a transplant.  He starts telling her naughty stories, and while she knows she shouldn't - she can't help listening.  Another story that was sweet and sad at the same time.  Might be my favorite in the anthology.

Just Be Good features a porn plot but is still interesting in the aspect that the heroine is in the driver's seat.  Starla is probably late teens and likes to get caught smoking pot by the local law.  There's a new sheriff in town that she's really hoping will punish her - uh, repeatedly.  The fly in the ointment?  The sheriff is a wee bit Beta and needs some coaxing....

Phoned In features a couple who have a "phone friendship," until one day when the heroine starts reading the hero naughty stories she's writing for a magazine.  A bit like the earlier Spying story in the respect that this one is kind of sad.  It features two people who seem afraid or incapable of having a tangible "in person" relationship.  However, unlike Spying, this one ended on a more hopeful note for me.

/Yes finds our married couple back in action, this time with the hero calling the shots.  His plan is to get the heroine really, really worked up.  A nice bookend story that compliments the couples' earlier appearance.

Sometime Soon is another story that is borderline sad.  "Plain" heroine gets her rocks off with a "grease monkey" mechanic.  She likes the whole use-me-baby-dirty-girl thing, and he's more than happy to oblige.  Again we have a heroine really going after what she wants, and taking control of her fantasies and sexuality.  It's the ending gives me pause.  It makes me worry that maybe she has "issues."

Different On The Inside is about a heroine who hangs out with a yuppie sort of crowd but doesn't really fit in.  It's while she's away with "the group" for a weekend that she has encounter with the hero, a slightly awkward geeky sort who totally has her pegged.  Lucky for them that someone in the group suggests a rousing game of hide and seek. 

All Ways is by far the most romantic story in the bunch.  Former military hero comes home damaged goods and reunites with the heroine, who was a girl he messed around with slash dated in high school.  Sexy, yet tender.  Also, it's very sweet in parts.  Could easily see a story of this nature being developed into a full-length erotic romance.

Toby Hood Tastes Candy was the weirdest story in the bunch, and probably my least favorite.  Hero is going to his grandmother's house when his car breaks down.  He encounters the heroine in the woods, and then grandma's bed.  I suspect the author was shooting for Twisted Fairy Tale, but it just was a little too odd for me.

The Things That Make Me Give In is a meditation on the part of the narrator, looking back at past lover's and recalling what it was about each of them that made her "give in."  That moment when she knew, "Yes, I'm going to have sex with you."  Very good writing, but yes - very much a meditation.  There's not a lot of meat and potatoes to this particular story, but it does an excellent job of exploring one woman's sexual past.

A lot of folks who don't read erotica often say (incorrectly) that it's nothing more than sex.  It's not a "real story" - it's smut on the page.  In this instance, yes all of Stein's stories are very heavy on the sex, but that's pretty much the point.  It's about exploring sexual identity and fantasy.  It's about women who, even if they might be playing a submissive role in some cases, are "in charge" of their sexuality.  Every woman in this anthology is calling the shots, in some form or another.  Which at the end of the day?  Is pretty much why I read erotica.  It flips a feminist switch for me.  I also loved that Stein managed to convey many different moods here - funny, sexy, sad, sweet, it's all over the map.  While my enjoyment level for each story varied anywhere from "OK" (C) to really, really good (B+) - as a whole this anthology was extremely well done, well thought out, interesting and challenging.  Damn, Stein is talented.

Final Grade = B


Rosario said...

Ohh, I want this! I've now read two of Stein's novellas and loved them, so I'm off to get this.

What you say about erotica flipping a feminist switch for you really rings a bell with me, which is probably why I like so very few erotica authors. So much of erotica these days seems to be about the "guilty pleasure" of readers forgetting their real-life feminism and allowing themselves to enjoy hyper-macho alphas. That's just not my bag.

SonomaLass said...

I need to read Stein. I have several of her novellas, highly recommended, but I just haven't been in an erotic reading mood lately.

Lynn Spencer said...

Oh, I really want to read this one! I haven't tried Stein yet, but this sounds like something I would like. I'm pretty picky with my erotica reading but I tend to like a lot of the same ones you do - you're the one whose reviews made me start reading Megan Hart.

Wendy said...

Rosario: I thought about mentioning this one to you on your blog - but....wasn't sure. I hadn't read it yet, and I wasn't sure if the stories would be too short for you. I like this format for erotica, but totally "get" why it's not for every reader.

I got hooked on erotica via Black Lace (Emma Holly's actually) and at the time I was so blown away by the sexual aware and adventurous heroines. It was so liberating to me as a reader! This was during an era of contemporary romances where heroines were either virgins, or if they had had multiple lovers there was a "reason" for it. Ex. - She Had Low Esteem Because Mommy/Daddy Didn't Love Her So She Slept With A Bunch Of Guys To Compensate. Heroines had to have a psychological reason for being sexually active. Bah humbug.

Wendy said...

SonomaLass: Yeah, my erotic reading mood has waned considerably with the current push for BDSM - which I'm not a huge fan of anyway, even when it's not a hot "trend." Stein though - she really brings to mind for me the reasons why I fell in love with erotica in the first place. She does have her favorite themes, but I like that she's capable of giving readers different moods.

Wendy said...

Lynn: Stein is capable of writing erotic romance, but I would almost classify her like Megan Hart - as "romantic erotica." There were stories in this collection that were a little melancholy - but most of the time she does end on an upbeat, although not always with a full-blown HEA.

Christine said...

Really nice review, Wendy. I know it's hard to write up something substantial about a collection of very short stories, but you managed it very well. I don't read much erotica (just Megan Hart), but I'm putting Stein on my list of authors to explore.

nath said...

I second Christine, Wendy. Very nice review and it does sound like you enjoyed a lot of the story :) I don't read much erotica, but I'll keep this author in mind :)

Hilcia said...

Well, dang! You sold me too! I love what your statement about erotica, and "reading" erotica. Well said!

Wendy said...

Christine: I debated on assigning individual grades to each story, but for a single author anthology I found it too hard. Especially since they all sat within C to B+ territory.

Nath: I enjoy Stein's writing an awful lot. She writes heroines well - at least the sorts of heroines I like to see in erotica. They can run the gamut from repressed to vixen, but I always feel like they are their own person(s).

Hils: Erotica found me at a time in my life when, like I mentioned to Rosario's comment, if you had a sexually experience heroine in a romance there had to be a deep, dark, scary reason why. She couldn't have had more than one partner just because she liked sex. There had to be a "trauma" of some sort. Uh, couldn't it just be because she'd been in more than one healthy relationship that just didn't work out in the end and she liked sex? Let's try running with that one shall we?

Ana T. said...

I don't usually read Erotica and prefer longer stories but reading this made me think that I would like to try it. Lets see how well I do. ;-)