Erotica (shhh!)

Erotica is something that we don’t discuss so much in American culture, certainly don’t talk about as part of our current reading list. Yet books like Fifty Shades of Grey top the bestseller lists and romance novels, a staple of American reading, include more and more erotic content. So we may not admit to it, but we certainly do read it.

Therefore in perpetuum let me openly proclaim, I read erotic novels. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes I laugh openly and immediately dispose of them. But, on occasion, I do read (shhh!) erotic books.

Typically I don’t write negative reviews in this blog as I want to encourage people to read, and I realize that people have different tastes, interests and so on, but for today’s lesson we will delve into the dark side of criticism. As with any book, quality of writing is important, and there are perhaps more poorly-written erotic books than there are in other genres. Fifty Shades of Grey sold like wildfire, so obviously many people loved it. I too read this title to see what all the hubbub was about. Well. Let me tell you a thing or two about this particular word salad. It’s one of the most poorly-written books I’ve ever encountered. And it’s not even mildly erotic. The attempted eroticism is laughable. Ha ha!

Now the only reason I bring this book up is to have a sort of base line with which to compare other books. I fully support anyone who enjoyed this book because one of the important things about reading is to have fun. However, I am going to stand by my earlier assertions. So let’s look at some other erotic literature in the library and see how it compares to this recent bestseller.

FermataThe Fermata by Nicholson Baker
The Fermata employs an extremely literate writing style enjoyable perhaps to the readers of Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides or Yann Martel. As with anything sexual in nature, the story certainly has the ability to offend, but this is on the kind and gentle end of the spectrum. The story tells of a man who is able to freeze time, and, as one might suspect, he uses this ability to take advantage of women, although only by undressing them. What makes the character interesting is that he is not a drooling pervert but a sensitive, caring person with a sort of moral code that he imposes on his interactions with the frozen women. The erotic content of this book is more titillating or sensual than overtly sexual.

Jane EyroticaJane Eyrotica by Charlotte Brontë and Karena Rose
A somewhat popular literary trend of recent years is the literary remix. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!, The Meowmorphosis and Zombie Island are just a few examples of classic literature updated in an absurd, nearly surreal manner. The best of these feature seamless rewrites, the style of the modern author matching perfectly that of Austen, Kafka and Shakespeare. Jane Eyrotica is a rather racy remix of Brontë’s classic, rampant with bosom heaving, Victorian innuendo, bondage and somewhat explicit carnal activities. Although the story is changed a bit (Jane being 16 rather than 10) to accommodate the subject matter, this is a well-written book, classic yet sexual, and a far cry above the quality of Fifty Shades. For a quick taste, witness Jane’s reaction when looking at a photograph of an attractive man:

“Upon first seeing [his eyes], I had felt a jolt of pleasure beneath my petticoat;”

A fairly tame observation, Victorian in its naiveté, but merely an aperitif of what is to come.

Twilight GirlsTwilight Girls by Paula Christian
Both an example of 1950’s pulp fiction and vintage erotica, Twilight Girls is an early lesbian romance. The book contains two novelettes about a stewardess called Mac who is tired of men’s advances and one night stands. After finding herself confused and attracted to another stewardess, Toni, she transfers to a faraway state and tries to put her feelings for Toni behind her. Without giving too much of the story away, this is a book about a relationship (which just happens to be lesbian) peppered with tawdry and sordid encounters as the characters come to terms with their true natures. Although pulp by definition is not high-quality writing, this tale is still head-and-shoulders above Fifty Shades.

Finally, here are a few mainstream romance authors who include healthy doses of eroticism in their books.

Sylvia Day

Sylvia DayJulie Kenner

Julie Kenner

Maya Banks

Maya Banks

So what have we learned today? Erotica comes in many shapes and sizes. Read it proudly, read it discerningly, but most importantly, don’t forget your petticoat.

Looking for Love (In All the Right Places)

I have exciting news—August is Read a Romance Month! As a confessed romance reader, I am thrilled to discover that there’s a whole month dedicated to the genre that has been my favorite for more than two decades.

Fawkes and Codex from The Guild demonstrate the traditional romance cover technique

Fawkes and Codex from The Guild demonstrate the traditional romance cover technique

Why read romance? As with any genre, each reader has his or her own reasons for choosing to read a romantic novel:

  • It’s fun!
  • Pure escapism at its best.
  • Happy endings abound.
  • Drama: either in love triangles, star-crossed lovers, or fighting the forces of evil side-by-side.
  • Rom-coms: they’re not just for movies, who doesn’t want to laugh?

For me, it’s always the promise of a happy ending that draws me in. I’m especially fond of characters who start out, for whatever reason, disliking each other and eventually make it to a happy life together. It always warms my heart when two unhappy people can find someone who understands them and together they find a way to make life happy once again.

I’m sure I already know what you’re picturing: a total bodice-ripper, maybe even complete with a shirtless Fabio in a torrid—or even sordid—embrace with a scantily-clad woman with long, flowing hair and ecstasy between them. If you’re like me and enjoy romances with the couple rounding third base on the cover but don’t want to announce it to the world, you can always download the eBook and read it in privacy on your e-reading device. While there are still many of these types of book scattered throughout publishing, today’s romance novels aren’t always so obvious.

MaddyFor example, I just finished reading The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James, which won RITA awards this summer for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements & Best First Book. It doesn’t look like a romance novel, does it? While the core of the book is a creepy ghost story, there are definitely romantic overtones throughout.

Sarah Piper is employed by a temp agency in 1920s London. Times are tough, and her existence is bleak. She can’t say no when the agency assigns her to assist author and ghost hunter Alistair Gellis. Alistair has always searched for evidence of ghosts: not just do they exist, he insists they do, but trying to answer questions like are they sentient or just bursts of energy. When he learns of the ghost of Maddy Clare (who is haunting the barn where she hanged herself one year ago) he can’t pass up the opportunity to gather potential evidence that could prove once and for all the existence of ghosts. His regular assistant is away, so he hires Sarah to accompany him to the English countryside.

Sarah soon learns her real role: Alistair wants her to commune with Maddy’s ghost. Sarah discovers that in life Maddy hated men and will not allow any to come near her inside the barn. Sarah isn’t brave—she’s desperate to make ends meet. So she enters the barn, knowing nothing will ever be the same.

Are you thinking she and Alistair will hook up? That would be a little obvious. And while I’m not opposed to obvious, there’s something to be said for patience. After Sarah makes contact with Maddy, Alistair’s original assistant arrives to reprise his role. Matthew Ryder served with Alistair in the Great War, and they are as close as brothers. Matthew is at first angry that Alistair wouldn’t wait for him to return before setting out to investigate Maddy. But soon they discover just how much influence Maddy has over them all. It’s going to take a lot of fortitude, and some good old-fashioned detective work, to fully understand Maddy’s story.

Author Anne Stuart, who herself writes romances, described this book as, “Compelling…a wonderful blend of romance, mystery, and pure creepiness.” With a description like that, how can you pass it up?

page 45This is just one of millions of tales where romance plays a key part in the story—even if it’s not the entire story. So what if there isn’t an embracing couple on the cover? Have no doubt you may indeed find love—and a happy ending—even in a grim and, yes, creepy book like this one.

Still not convinced? Recently I put it to our Facebook fans to play along with a little game. It’s a quick, easy, and fun way to participate in Read a Romance Month:

Take a chance. Read a romance. You just might fall in love with reading all over again.

Carol

I’d Love for You to Read This

Love is in the air—and on the page. It’s time once again to announce the winners of the summer’s hottest awards: the Romance Writers of America’s RITAs. The RITAs are named after RWA’s very first president, Rita Clay Estrada, and have been awarded every year since 1982. It’s not simply an honorary but an actual award—a golden statuette of a woman, whom I assume to be none other than Rita herself, reading a book. According to RWA’s website, it “has become the symbol for excellence in published romance fiction.”

I’ll say!

Past recipients include Nora Roberts, LaVyrle Spencer, Francine Rivers, Diana Gabaldon, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Robin Lee Hatcher, Tess Gerritsen, Debbie Macomber, Julia Quinn, Jill Shalvis, Tessa Dare, and my new favorite author, Darynda Jones.

I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: as one of the few admitted romance readers on staff, I feel it’s my duty, right, and pleasure to present this list to you, dear reader. And I’m not even vying for a nomination for Librarian of the Year. Mainly because I’m not a librarian, but also because I’m ever-so-humble. Wink wink.

I’m including links to the catalog so you can easily find a copy now, because you know these holds queues are going to blow up as word starts to gets out.

Best Contemporary Single Title Romance:
The Way Back Home by Barbara Freethy

Best Historical Romance:
A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

Best Romantic Suspense:
Scorched by Laura Griffin

Best Inspirational Romance:
Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

Best Short Contemporary Series Romance:
A Night of No Return by Sarah Morgan

Best Long Contemporary Series Romance:
A Gift for All Seasons by Karen Templeton

Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements & Best First Book:
The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Best Paranormal Romance:
Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole

Best Young Adult Romance:
The Farm by Emily McKay

Best Romance Novella:
Seduced by a Pirate by Eloisa James

You’ll notice I didn’t include a link for every title. That’s because the library hasn’t yet purchased all of them. If you’re interested, feel free to talk to a librarian. Let them know it’s now an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

At the same time they announced the RITA winners, RWA also announced the Golden Heart Winners. What’s a Golden Heart? The short version: it’s an award given to outstanding unpublished manuscripts. The final round of the contest is judged by romance editors. Many winners go on to enjoy a career as a published romance novelist. Recipients are awarded an actual golden heart pendant. Gotta love literal literary prizes!

Perhaps you’d like to submit your own manuscript for next year’s Golden Heart competition. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of putting pen to paper (or keys to screen) and want to begin writing, but you don’t know where to start. We’ve got some excellent writing resources sitting in the stacks waiting to help guide you through the process of writing a romantic novel–including how to write those steamy love scenes.

Another valuable resource is Romantic Times. Each issue is packed with well-written reviews for everything from contemporary to paranormal, inspirational to erotica. I used to subscribe at home but I’ve since let my subscription lapse, since I can get each issue for free from the library. It’s also a great way to get a feel for what’s popular in romance publishing right now. You may notice themes or topics not currently trending–maybe this is the direction in which you’re meant to go.

Imagine your future as a literary trendsetter. It’s a good future, yes? Now go grab a RITA winner and get to work “researching.”

Carol

2012 RITA Awards

The last month or so has been pretty chaotic. Between my best friend finally receiving a new kidney and my brother visiting my husband and me, before I knew it August (and the insomnia-inducing hot weather) had arrived in full force. So it’s no surprise that I missed out on the announcement of the 2012 RITA award winners.

The Romance Writers of America (RITA) announce every summer the best of the best, one winner in each of several popular romance sub-genres. And as one of the few library staff members who admits to reading romance novels, I feel it’s my duty to share the list with you. Sorry, 50 Shades fans. Your books didn’t make the list.

Best Paranormal Romance:
Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Best Romance Novella:
I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden

Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements:
How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal

Best First Book:
First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Best Historical Romance:
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

Best Regency Historical Romance:
A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

Best Young Adult Romance:
Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Best Romantic Suspense:
New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb

Best Inspirational Romance:
The Measure of Katie Calloway by Serena Miller

Best Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure:
Soldier’s Last Stand by Cindy Dees

Best Contemporary Series Romance:
Doukakis’s Apprentice by Sarah Morgan

Best Contemporary Single Title Romance:
Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe

In preparing this blog post I ended up putting a few titles on hold–they sounded too good to pass up! You’ll notice that the library hasn’t purchased some of these yet. If you’re interested, feel free to let a librarian know that it’s an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

Carol

PS: If you’d like some more great romance suggestions, try flipping through an issue of Romantic Times. You’re sure to find some real page-turners any time of the year.

My Name Is Memory

“Do you come here often?” 

“You look so familiar! I must have known you in a past life.”

“Heaven must be missing an angel.”

These are a few of the pick up lines people use thinking they’re being smooth when, laughably, they are actually the fodder of every comedy movie out there.

But there might be truth in one of those lines.

You may be familiar with Ann Brashares from her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Her latest novel, My Name is Memory, is a departure. It deals with not only the idea of reincarnation but reincarnation as fact. It’s a story about a man who has been “alive” for 1200 years. He’s not literally immortal, but he remembers each life from one to the next. If reincarnation exists, many of us know well that déjà vu feeling of “Oh man, I have done this before, I know it!”

Memories of past lives follow Daniel for over 1,000 years. And along with those memories, he recognizes and often crosses paths with a woman he’s been in love with since his very first life:

All I could think to do was love her. That’s all a person can do.

The book follows both characters as one struggles with the idea of reincarnation, while the other tries to prove it exists. And there’s a twist: a man who was Daniel’s brother 1,000 years ago also carries the long memories with him and is hunting down Daniel’s love.

The novel introduces the idea that there are people born remembering their past lives. They can recall lives that intersect with their loved ones and enemies not only hundreds of years but back to a time when names were unfamiliar to the human tongue.

My favorite part of the book is when Daniel recalls a woman who had lived before but hadn’t realized it. It’s also a little telling of the loneliness of being born remembering when no one else around you does:

He remembered a woman from his old neighborhood in St. Louis driving fifteen miles to the cemetery every day to mourn her long-dead husband at a cold gray stone, while the husband was busy selling milk at the 7-Eleven just half a mile down the road from her house.

This is a fast-paced read, especially if your mind is cracked open just a smidge to welcome an old idea like reincarnation. I was a little wary of the romance aspect at first, thinking it might be mushy and have me rolling my eyes. But along with the idea of chasing the one you love over centuries is the idea that we’re also always near to the ones we loved (and hated) most throughout the years: brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends. I found that a comforting (and maybe a little unsettling) thought.

Jennifer

Magical Realism

Magical realism is one of my favorite reading genres. If you’re not familiar with this style of writing, it is not fantasy, science fiction, or escapist fiction. Rather, magical realist stories typically portray the world in ways beyond the objective – life described richly with delight, passion, and wonder.

The House of the SpiritsNancy Pearl describes magical realism as “a style of writing that allows authors to look at our own world through the lens of another world, an imagined yet very familiar one in which past, present, and future are often intertwined.”

Some of the best-known writers of magical realism are Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez

A few of my all-time favorites include Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Aphrodite, and My Invented Country, as well as Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.The Lady, The Chef, and The Courtesan

The Lady, the Chef, and the Courtesan by Marisol and Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin are a few you may have missed.Volver

And, of course, Pedro Almodóvar movies are a wonderful accompaniment to these books, especially Volver.

Kara