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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Warped Minds And Extreme Reactions

Spice Briefs are the tasty erotica/erotic romance digital short stories published by Harlequin, and it didn't take long after I received my trusty Sony Reader PRS-505 for me to get well and truly hooked. I've reviewed a number of them for TGTBTU and last year I impulsively clicked "buy" on a paranormal historical story, Tonight, My Love by Tracie Sommers (read full review).

Trust me when I say that story warped my fragile lil' mind. It was hot stuff, extremely well done erotica - but the ending? Wowzers. The ending was like stepping outside naked, in a snow storm, breaking through the ice of a frozen lake, and jumping in. I've been reading erotic stories a long time (over 10 years now) and never before had I read a story that turned me on and disgusted me in equal measure. People who review books always say it's the "extreme" stories they remember the most and that's not idle chatter. I slapped it with a D-, but to this day I still remember that story and my reaction to it. I also remember how difficult that review was to write. Naysayers, it is possible to write your reviews without spoilers. If I could do it with that story, it can be done with any story.

The author took the time to drop me an e-mail to say she actually liked my review. I'm not sure how she felt about that D-, but she knew when she wrote that story that people were going to have an extreme reaction to. They were either going to love it, or hate it with the heat of a thousand blazing suns. Trust me, there is absolutely no in-between. While I certainly fell closer to the "hate it" camp - I was so damn impressed by the reaction her story was able to wring out of me that when she offered to send me a copy of her upcoming release, I said "Hell yeah!"

Blame It On the Moonlight is a much more traditional story that sits firmly on the erotica-as-fantasy platform. The heroine has just caught her sleaze-bag fiance' boinking a skanky Barbie-doll clone, so she hightails it to the woods surrounding her grandfather's cabin to be alone. That's when she has an encounter with a very large wolf. He appears friendly at first, but something in his all-too-human-looking eyes makes her spidey sense tingle. That and her various girly bits. Oooh la la!

Anyone with any experience in paranormal romance knows where this is going. What especially worked well for me was the atmosphere (very gothic-like in the beginning) and the erotic scenes. There are some tinges of lavender prose here, but those erotic moments I admired in Tonight, My Love are equally as strong in this story.

I tend to avoid werewolf stories like the plague because I despise "soul mates," "fated to be mated" and all that nonsense. Color me crazy, but free will is pretty darn sexy. I need the heroine to have some semblance of a "choice," even if all the choices she has stink like 3-week-old fish left rotting in the sun. And this is where Sommers wins me over. Because while we do have the "mate stuff" here, she spins it in such a way that the heroine is not robbed of her free will. Oh happy day! Oh blessed saints! The peasants rejoice!

I know that no author anywhere likes to run up against a negative review, but this is proof positive that they aren't the kiss of death. That first story got a D- from me. Normally a grade like that is enough for me to put an author on my Never Again List. In this instance? My memorable reaction, the author's skill at wringing that reaction out of me, and her response to my response (judging by our e-mail exchange she did not start crafting an army of Little Wendy Voodoo Dolls), moved me to give her a second chance. And I'm glad I did. This was a quick, tasty, steamy (wowzers) story, that had an interesting spin on a trope I normally despise. I know a lot of readers who refuse to read "short" because they feel the stories are somehow "inferior." My response has always been that some authors can, and some cannot. Judging by my reactions to these two short stories? Sommers can.

Final Grade = B

This short story is currently only available as a digital release. It can be purchased at eHarlequin and other fine ebook retail outlets.


Jill Sorenson said...

Hey, I liked Tonight, My Love! I actually reviewed it. Thought I was the only one. I agree that the ending was jarring. that the story was well-written and memorable.

No f/f/m in this? Sigh. I never can find good writing in that pairing.

Wendy said...

Jill: No threesomes of any sort. One guy, one girl - that's it.

And I'm with you - I'd love to see more f/f/m in erotic romance (and erotica written by/for women) but I fear you and I might be in the minority. Mores the pity...

Leslie said...

I had to find out what the shocking ending is for Tonight, My Love. Wow - yeah, I don't think I'd want to read that either. (if anyone's curious, the review on Amazon gives it away. They really should post Spoiler warnings.)

Anyway, if Sommers was able to win you over on the werewolf/soulmate thing, I'm willing to give Blame it on the Moonlight a try. :)

It's nice to see an author turning a negative review into a positive experience.

AnimeJune said...

You know, I've had that reaction too. In this case, it was to Teresa Medeiros' Yours Until Dawn - a book that was great for 90% of the book, with an awesomely surprising twist - and then it takes a creepy turn in the last couple of pages that make no sense!

But ultimately because I could not stop thinking about that book, I kept it - AND got another one of her books at the Avon signing at RWA 2010.

As a review, I think it's natural to prefer books that incite a reaction, good OR bad, rather than m'eh, because it makes the review that much easier and more fun to write. It's easier to write a gushing "this is awesome" review and a "my brain! it hurts my brain!" review than a "eh, I guess it was okay," review.

Hilcia said...

I agree with AnimeJune... those meh reviews/books are killers. I love the author's reaction... and this sounds interesting if only because the heroine is not robbed of her "free will" as you so aptly put it. I love my erotica, so I'll definitely check it out. :)

Wendy said...

Leslie: I was so torn over that ending. Part of me felt blindsided and disgusted, while the other part of me admired the hell out of the author for 1) going there 2) taking the risk and 3) writing it in a way that instilled maximum shock value to this reader. I could (and still can't) get that story out of my head.

AnimeJune: Oh Lord, yes the m'eh reviews are killers. Most readers who read reviews generally want more than "M'eh, it was OK. I guess." LOL

Hilcia: KristieJ and I have had great discussions on the "soul mates" theme. In the end, we agree to disagree :) I have a hard time with any romance where the heroine is stripped of her free will. She HAS to fall in love with THIS guy and ONLY this guy. And if she doesn't? She's destined to be the Crazy Old Cat Lady. Blah.

Gail Dayton said...

I don't read short, because they're just too short. I read so darn fast that it's a little like cotton candy. Dissolves in too little time. I'm intrigued by your review, but unless it's collected into an anthology where I can have a bunch of stories at once--it's not that they're inferior. They're quite often very good (though I don't like twist endings, usually)--but they're too darn short!

Gail Dayton said...

Oh, and I'm with you Wendy, on the Soul Mates theme. Bleh.

Tracie said...

Wendy - thanks so much for this great reiview :). Tonight My Love was a crazy story - it poured out of me in a day and I took a couple of weeks to revise. But tha story definately lead the way. It was my first ever Erotic story. I took my time with this second.

Jill - I am working on another story - though I am not sure if it will go anywhere - it's called Good Kitty, Bad Kitty and has f/f/m scenes.

Jill Sorenson said...

Thanks Tracie. I'll look out for it.

Wendy, I just read another Spice Brief, The Gift by Eva Cassel. It was interesting and nicely done.

Wendy said...

Gail: LOL - and I like reading short because I'm a SLOW reader. Reading short gives me the illusion that I'm a fast reader.

Tracie: Thanks for stopping by! Hope the new story ends up going somewhere :)

Jill: Thanks, will be on the lookout for it. Haven't done a Harlequin order yet for August so I'll add it to my list....

A Library Girl said...

I don't mind "soul mate" stories (which are often "human female, supernatural guy") because it's not just the woman who has to fall in love with this one person - they guy's in the same boat. It's not to be as noticeable an issue with the guy because he tends to be a supernatural creature and has been aware that this would be his fate for a while now, even if he didn't know which woman he'd end up with.

And that got me to thinking: I know there are plenty of "soul mate" books out there where the heroine objects to the guy she's suddenly been attached to. I can't think of too many, though, where the guy objects. The only one that comes to mind right now is a YA book, "Daughters of Darkness" by L.J. Smith, which has mutual objection. There's got to be others out there. Does anybody know of any?