Tag Archives: Erotica

Love Letters: Wicked Whispers Brings Four Erotic Short Stories to Your End Table

16 Jul

Love Letters: Wicked Whispers, Volume 3 by Christina Thatcher, Maggie Wells, Ginny Glass, and Emily Gale (Carina Press, June 17, 2013)

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, anthologies are always a pleasure to read since you never know when you are going to stumble across a new author to love (see my Lucy Monroe series post from yesterday). In looking over the larger body of work from these four authors, it’s interesting to note that more and more writers are becoming specialists, particularly in the area of short fiction. While short stories are not as interesting to me as the novella, I still enjoyed a small taste of romance in each of these works and certainly appreciate the skill it takes to make the reader feel the build up and resolution of the romance in a small number of pages.

The subtitle “Wicked Whispers” is your first clue as the nature of these stories. Words and speaking are a key piece in every plot – whether it’s unexpected naughty talk, writing a sex scene, reading a sex scene or practicing phone sex. It’s a great construct for the collection and each story was of excellent quality, to the point that I would cheerfully purchase the writing of any of the authors in the future.

“I is for Indecent” by Christina Thatcher

Annie is captivated by the image of the astonishingly good looking Stefan Cox in the wedding album of her friend and boss, amazed that someone that good looking can also be a talented architect. She scoffs when she hears that he is interested in meeting her, having admired Annie’s award-winning jewelry designs, but ends up at a dinner party where Stefan asks to see her again. Knowing she’s way out of his league – the man should date supermodels or corporate CEOs – she declines.

He doesn’t take no for an answer. Showing up at her jewelry studio, Stefan charms her into giving them one dinner, largely by gently and explicitly telling her exactly what he was thinking during the dinner party. Annie can’t believe that she’s this turned on by a man who hasn’t even touched her, but she agrees to the invitation. The dinner and what comes after is just as erotic, if not more so, but Annie isn’t convinced that the man she nicknamed “Adonis” has enough in common with her for it to last more than one night.

Great, richly drawn characters and some serious sexy talk make this short story a delight. It’s easy to understand Annie’s assumptions but the reality of Stefan is even more charming and lovable than his hot appearance.

“J is for Jaded” by Maggie Wells

Vaughn Hatch is the sexy, tattooed bad boy who sits in the booth of the recording studio Julie Poplin frequents when doing her voice over work for audiobooks. When he makes an offhand remark about her child acting, she’s crushed. She thought he of all people would appreciate building a second career and working past people’s assumptions. Vaughn used to be a guitar rock star before his lead singer overdosed and the band fell apart. He’s built a recording studio with an outstanding reputation but clearly he can’t respect what Julie does for a living.

It’s actually just the opposite. Vaughn lives for his time with Julie, listening to her sexy voice relating the steamy romance novels she’s become famous for bringing to life. He senses she might be attracted to him, but when she begins reading the latest work – a hot BDSM story – and accidentally uses Vaughn’s name instead of the hero, he knows he’s got her. But Julie makes clear that it’s just sex to her and Vaughn wants something more. Can they build a second act together?

Maggie Wells is able to dig into deep emotional territory very quickly and it was downright painful to witness Vaughn willing to have angry “just sex” with Julie (thank God for the following scene!). Two wounded individuals coming together and realizing that they are each just what the other need, despite appearances, is a wonderful trope and this well-written story hit every major chord, to the point that it read like a much longer story.

“K is for Kickstart” by Ginny Glass

Sophie Maddox has a major case of writer’s block and an even worse crush on her sexy, funny editor Oliver Gibson. As luck would have it, her laptop dies minutes before her editor calls to check in on her word count. Rather than accept her excuse, he orders her over to his house to use his computer…really late at night.

Oliver fell first for Sophie’s writing and then for her. He’s giddy at having her in his home like he’s always dreamed but his reinforced restraint falls to the wayside when she confesses to having a problem writing the sex scenes with her new hero. When a typo brings both their feelings to light, they begin a night of writing – from real life inspiration – that both hope will have a happy ending.

How could anyone not love Oliver? Brainy, loves books, handsome, funny and happy to worship Sophie from afar because they are friends and he’s worried about putting pressure on his favorite author and losing her. That Sophie was secretly using him as inspiration for her new hero? Priceless, and their writing session/sex scene was so hot I was fanning myself!

“L is for Lessons” by Emily Cale

Chloe always loves spending time with her friend Bethany, especially after Chloe’s painful and expensive divorce, a divorce made tougher by the fact her ex used her reason – that she’s a lesbian – to make sure Chloe got nothing past the bare minimum of child support. With her daughter growing like a weed, Chloe is sincerely worried about making ends meet and can’t help but notice that part-time dance instructor Bethany is always sporting the latest designer purses and has plenty of cash. When she works up the courage to ask her how she manages it, she gets an astonishing answer. Bethany is a phone sex operator.

Chloe, despite her shyness, is desperate enough to consider the profession and Bethany bolsters her courage explaining the many benefits – like great pay and flexible hours. But Chloe and Bethany both realize that Chloe needs a practice call before she does her interview, so Bethany dials her up. The result sends both women reeling with a desire they’ve tried to ignore, but it might be just the wake up call they need.

It’s wonderful to see a sexy F/f romance in an erotica collection and both Chloe and Bethany were wonderful characters who clearly care for one another, first as friends and then as perfectly matched lovers. Hot and sweet, I thought this was a great addition to the anthology.

Countdown to Christmas: This Quintet of Erotic Romance Authors Will Light Your Christmas Fire in A Very Naughty Xmas

14 Dec

A Very Naughty Xmas by Stephanie Julian, Olivia Cunning, Raven Morris, Cherrie Lynn, and Cari Quinn (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, December 1, 2012)

One of the ways to have a toasty Christmas is to indulge yourself with some well-written erotica (or romantica, if you perfer that term for erotica geared to romance). When I saw A Very Naughty Xmas had a roster of some of the best erotica and erotic romance authors out there, this became a must-read.

And I want to make clear that this is both erotica and erotic romance. In case you’re unclear about what I mean, erotic romance has the end result of two (or more) people ending in a happily ever after or happily for now relationship with some type of commitment involved. True erotica, and some of these stories most assuredly fall into that category, has the focus of an intense sexual experience with no necessary commitment, although I prefer it if the encounter shows a degree of caring between the consenting adults involved.

While it won’t come as any surprise to fans of any of these writers, this is an outstandingly well-written anthology which falls under the “amazing value” banner since the ebook version is only $4.99 and you get 302 hot, well-written pages! I would cheerfully for over $4.99 for one novella from any of these authors to say nothing of one from each of them, so this is an example of Christmas coming early for me.

“Jingle Ball” by Cari Quinn

Des and Cole are business partners who share an apartment above their offices, among other things. They share women (and occasionally pleasure each other) but mostly they run a successful business. The only problem as Christmas approaches is that Des cannot stop thinking about his hot secretary, Wendy. She’s a sweet, beautiful woman who needs this job to take care of her sick mother, but all he can think about is her sexy Southern accent and killer body. After a year of getting to know and admire her, he’s not ready to admit to more than wanting her (although Cole knows better) but he refuses to be that boss. His mother knew all too well what it was like to have a boss who took advantage and Des would do anything to not inflict that heartbreak on a woman he cared about, especially one who needed her job.

No Dress Required (Love Required #1) by Cari Quinn (Entangled Publishing, December 25, 2011) – This great novella also involves the spirit of Christmas with two people who loved each other from afar finding each other when one Christmas party goes differently than they each expect.

Wendy doesn’t know about Des’ tortured past, just that she has been head over heels in love with her boss since she got a good look at him. That he’s a caring, hard-working man only makes him that much hotter, but she knows that she’s not likely to ever get a taste of him, and isn’t that a depressing thought for the holidays! Everything changes, however, at the building’s holiday party when Des catches Wendy in Cole’s office masturbating. He thinks she’s doing it thinking of Cole, but in actuality she couldn’t resist after seeing (and smelling) Des’ shirt draped on Cole’s chair. Des decides to teach her what happens to bad secretaries who do naughty things in the boss’ office, and calls Cole in to help him dispense a little justice.

I loved this story (Cari Quinn never disappoints) in the way she depicts such hot yearning between Des and Wendy without either of them letting on how deeply they care about the other person. The menage with Cole is really there to make Des more comfortable being with Wendy, but it is hurtful and confusing to her why she can have sex with Cole and do plenty of things to Des (and he to her) but Des never has intercourse with her. It was typical guy logic how Des rationalized that if he didn’t have sex with Wendy he wasn’t going to be like his father, but the ending was so sweet (and hilarious when her mother and aunt walked in on them) that I forgave Des any illogical thinking.

“Christmas Is Coming” by Raven Morris

Wow, wow, WOW. I honestly didn’t believe that married sex could be this hot, but Raven Morris (the erotica pen name of fabulous paranormal romance author Judi Fennell, who I have had the pleasure of hearing speak at a workshop for my romance writers chapter) proved me very wrong.

Jacked (Tied with a Bow #1) by Raven Morris (Amazon, July 1, 2012)

Deb and Jack are a professional husband and wife very much in love and with a smokin’ hot sex life. Previously that year, Jack gave Deb a present she’d always wanted – a threesome – arranging with his friend David to come over and make all her fantasies come true. This Christmas, Deb is beside herself at the thought of reciprocating. Her college roommate Amanda, gorgeous and always sexually adventurous, is in town for the holidays and Deb wants to tie her up with a bow and give her to Jack for the two of them to enjoy.

These two people live in a haze of love and sex so evident to others that the partner’s wives at the Christmas party pester Deb for sex tips and details about Jack. For one novella, this story packs so many jaw-droppingly hot sex scenes that you will need a pitcher of ice water to get through it (and you may need to pour it over yourself rather than drink it to cool off). I guarantee you will never look at a 16″ strand of pearls the same way.

While I’ve read plenty of menage erotica, I had never read one about a couple who each invite a partner into their bed (yes, David shows up as Deb’s present and Amanda is Jack’s present) so a menage a quatre was something new for me. I was a little worried about it, as multi-partner sex can devolve into who-is-putting-what-where but Morris blinds you with a writing ability that is so strong, the emotional quotient never wavers. This highly sensual experience is between caring people, two of whom are doing it to bring added pleasure to their life partner. It’s incredibly sweet, actually, which is honestly not something I thought I’d ever write about four people having sex together!

This is part of Morris’ Tied With a Bow series, the first book of which, Jacked, is actually the story of Jack presenting David to Deb for her birthday. As of right now, Jacked is available for free on Amazon, so I’d head over there and get this story downloaded to your ereader ASAP to double your pleasure. I’ve bought the first anthology of this series since I was so impressed with this story.

“Light Me Up” by Cherrie Lynn (Ross Siblings #2.5)

This story is actually part of the Ross siblings series and the epilogue to Cherrie Lynn’s second book in that series, Rock Me, an incredibly popular book in the world of erotic romance. Please note that this story and/or the anthology is not listed in the series list (something I hope Lynn can remedy) so if you’re a fan there’s no way you want to miss this!

Rock Me (Ross Siblings series #2 – Brian and Candace) by Cherrie Lynn (Samhain Publishing, May 4, 2010)

I can see why fans are so enthusiastic. Brian is the ultimate bad boy with a boatload of sensitivity under the surface. He and Candace have been together for about a year and a half and they are head over heels in love with each other, at least in her opinion. She comes from a pretty awful family, one of the rich ones in town, and her parents and siblings are not happy about her being involved with a Ross. After her mother corners her at the mandatory holiday party to ask her where her relationship with Brian is going, Candace doesn’t appreciate her raining on her parade.

But naturally it makes her begin to wonder, and watching Brian makes her even more nervous. It’s clear that he’s not comfortable with her mother talking to her about this and despite all their amazing sexing it up, she’s worried. Candace just determines that she’ll take Brian however she can have him because having him in her life is more important than having a ring, when he turns the tables and gives her an incredible Christmas present.

I immediately went and bought this book (and the first in the series as well) because of how utterly impressed I was with this story. While told totally from Candace’s perspective, this story showcased not only their deep love for each other but also how Lynn can infuse sexual situations with so much emotion that the overall reading experience is heightened beyond belief. Brian is the ultimate bad boy every woman wants to turn to the forces of good but he is one artistic, romantic hero who I imagine causes women to swoon all over the reading world.

“An Indecent Proposition” by Stephanie Julian

By Private Invitation by Stephanie Julian (Berkley, December 31, 2012)

I’m not going to lie, I am a GIGANTIC Stephanie Julian fan. I’m not joking, I have read all but three of her books and I still own the three I haven’t read and have them on my to-read list. She’s consistently one of the best erotic romance writers and I have learned more about Etruscan culture (no, that’s not a typo) than I ever thought possible via her hot paranormal series like Magical Seduction, Lucani Lovers (heart you, Kyle!) and the Forgotten Goddesses books. Like Raven Morris, I’ve also taken a workshop with Julian at my PLRW chapter meeting which was fantastic. This author is hard-working, creative, and extremely nice, with an air of earned authority wrapped in a friendly approachable package. What more can you ask for?

Had I known I would have asked for a super-hot erotic novella, but wait…Stephanie Julian just gave me one in this anthology! As usual, she manages to infuse what could just be hot relatively anonymous sex with caring and affection so the encounter becomes something so much more. I never get tired of her (which is why I’ve already ordered her newest book coming out in a couple of weeks – take a look at the image to the right).

Erik Riley and Keegan Malone have been best friends since their rooming days at boarding school. While in Princeton, they learned that sharing women brought them both a great deal of pleasure, so they dabbled in that while getting their degrees. Setting up a highly successful company, their good luck seemed to run out three years ago when Erik got caught in an explosion in one of their labs. Keegan is wrestling with his conscience as he was the one who was supposed to be in the building. While Erik has brutal scars that even reconstructive surgery can’t repair, Keegan has watched his vibrant best friend retreat into himself and show no interest in anything. Even their sex games, when Erik chooses to indulge, is about him watching in the shadows or participating in a way that no woman they share can ever see his face.

But things change when the company’s holiday party benefits from the beautiful Julianne Carter as a waitress. Keegan has a reaction once Erik points her out over the remote com they use so he can see the proceedings and their mutual fascination has them making an outrageous offer. They will give Julianne $500,000 if she comes to the house for a sexual encounter.

Julianne Carter can really use that half a million dollars. Her mother had breast cancer and her asshole father gambled their money away and spent a bunch of it on hookers while treating her mother like crap. He’s fortunately out of their lives, but there are plenty of bills to pay and her twelve-year-old Civic isn’t getting any younger. One of her friends works for the man making the offer, and has assured her it’s on the up-and-up; if she’s the slightest bit uncomfortable she can just walk away from the situation. Julianne enjoys sex, as long as it’s with someone she thinks is attractive and likes, so she’s uncertain whether she’s going through with this.

One look at Keegan Malone and her body practically makes a cha-ching sound! Sleeping with this gorgeous, strangely nervous man will be no hardship, but she gets the sense that there is someone watching in the beautiful shadowed Victorian room they are in. Keegan almost has a heart attack when Julianne calls into the shadows to Erik and even more of one when Erik decides to show himself to her. This could be exactly the breakthrough they both have been waiting for.

This was incredibly sensual and so utterly clever the way the situation and the sexual energy broke down Erik’s remaining barriers and let fly some of the tension between him and Keegan. I loved Julianne’s openness and she comes across as a hard-working, great daughter who is ready to try something safe and sexually adventurous, particularly when she realizes it’s totally on her own terms since she can walk away at any time. With her experience with her mother, she’s older than a lot of women her age and has already learned to look past the surface to the real person underneath. If I had any complaint, it’s that she drove away at the end of the night, although it was hinted that it wouldn’t be the last she’d see of Erik and Keegan. I’ve got my fingers crossed for another novella with these three since they’ve haunted me ever since I read this.

“Share Me” by Olivia Cunning

Try Me, Tempt Me, Take Me (the first three books in the One Night with Sole Regret series) by Olivia Cunning (Vulpine, December 6, 2012)

If you happen to love rock and roll and enjoy erotica, you need look no further than author Olivia Cunning. Famous for her fantastic Sinners on Tour series about a rock band and their finding lust and love on the road, she has also penned a slightly more mild (and it’s still raging inferno erotica, do not misunderstand me) series called One Night with Sole Regret.

More than any other story in this collection, this one is true erotica. In this prequel to the One Night with Sole Regret series, Lindsey and her best friend Vanessa are at a Sole Regret concert drooling over the band members and decide to follow the tour bus slogging through the blizzard to see if it stops somewhere they can meet the guys. When the band takes a break at a scenic view to wait out the storm, the two women end up on the bus, basically having hot sex with all the band members (and the bus driver).

Cunning does a great job introducing each of the band members and hinting at their personalities and/or tortured pasts. The two women are imminently likable and clearly indulging in a one-night only fantasy they can cling to when they have crying children with chicken pox somewhere down the road. While this story certainly didn’t have the emotional charge of many of the other stories in the anthology, the band members are depicted as caring, friendly guys who don’t want to push the women into doing anything they aren’t 100% on board with (and fortunately they are on board with a lot). It’s a facile vehicle for setting up with series as a whole and I was overjoyed when I discovered the above anthology of the first three books available for free as part of my Kindle loan program. I’ve got it until January 2013 and plan on using it to save on electricity since I’ll be able to turn my heat down while reading it!

In summary, this anthology represents the very best of erotica and erotic romance, lining up one powerhouse writer after another to take us on a variety of journeys, all of which occur during the holiday season. Like any good collection, this one nudges you to other books and series that will provide you with hours of enjoyment, while lighting your Christmas fire from deep within. Partners and spouses would do well to consider giving this book as a gift this holiday as it might very well be the gift that keeps on giving!

Many thanks to Stephanie Julian, Cari Quinn, Raven Morris, Olivia Cunning, and my new find Cherrie Lynn for being such hard-working and talented writers turning out book after wonderful book. You are all the best Christmas present a reader could ask for! 🙂

A Good BDSM Introduction: The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden

9 Jul

I’m going to be honest here. BDSM isn’t my thing, but I always enjoy well-written erotica, since the point of erotica is writing sexually explicit material that advances the plot, usually one of self-discovery and/or a relationship between two people.

I was elated, therefore, to find upon reading a NetGalley copy of Delphine Dryden‘s new enovella, The Theory of Attraction, that she has touched on all points. This is a sexy, lengthy novella about one woman’s discovery of a type of relationship she had no knowledge of, complete with explicit, caring scenes that advance the relationship between the hero and heroine.

This story is told solely from Camille’s perspective and while anyone who reads this blog knows that I am far from being a fan of the first person, in this case it works. Camille is on a journey of self-discovery since she has no idea that she’s a submissive and through the sex scenes we see with our hero, Ivan, that he grows both in confidence and in his feelings for Camille. The point of view is pitch perfect in this case.

Camille has been a neighbor and friend to Ivan for a couple of years now, but only recently has she noticed that the brusque astrophysicist is actually, well, kind of luscious, particularly when he goes running shirtless in the Texas heat wave they are experiencing. A stickler for a timetable, she sets her clock by Ivan’s routine, but she’s finding their mutual geek friends more and more annoying – she wants to spend time with him one-on-one.

Not that she thinks Ivan notices. Cami doesn’t believe Ivan sees her as a woman, but she’s wrong. Ivan probably would fall on the autism spectrum with his perpetual struggle to read human behavior (shades of The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie here). It isn’t that he can’t do it if he sets his mind to it, its that he doesn’t see the point. Knowing that in order to get ahead at the university he needs to demonstrate an ability to mingle and schmooze fundraising opportunities, he asks Cami to give him lessons in how to be social.

As Cami spends time with Ivan she suspects he not only knows that she’s dressing differently to entice him but that he’s actually flirting with her a little. Her suspicions are confirmed when she takes him for a trial run with friends to a movie. He hints that he knows what she’s doing but she doesn’t understand what she might be in for. Confronting him about it has him boldly spell it out for her. Unlike the lack of experience she has assumed he has, he actually is very experienced, but like everything in his life, Ivan has to be in control. Ivan is a dominant.

Cami only has the barest understanding of what this means and the more he explains to her, the more she wants to try it, for a specific reason.

I wanted to see him feeling things. I wanted to see him have feelings so strong he couldn’t hide from them. Couldn’t control his reactions. I wanted to make Ivan Reynolds completely lose his shit. Barring that, I would settle for Ivan making me completely lose my shit, which seemed a lot more likely.

And they both do exactly that. Ivan trains Cami to be the perfect submissive, introducing her to all sorts of toys and restrains, floggings, etc. But rather than be frightened at any of it (he naturally teaches her how to use a safeword before starting their relationship), she is incredibly turned on by his knowledge and his arousal at being in control.

He called it taking, but I felt as though he were giving me these things, these actions, like pieces of himself. Challenging me to receive these odd gifts, because they were all he had to give. His attention, his regard. His respect, which was the strangest thing of all, because I had expected to feel degraded at some point in all this and instead I felt valued beyond measure. Cherished. Strong.

The Lamplighter’s Love by Delphine Dryden (Ellora’s Cave, September 9, 2011)

I could care less about all the BDSM play but Dryden’s uncanny ability to beautifully show the evolution of emotion through sex is fantastic. It’s this ability to tap into emotion that makes this book such an excellent introduction to BDSM stories for someone unfamiliar with the dynamics. A novice reader can learn along with Cami while also understanding the reciprocity of shared emotion that ideally accompanies this relationship. I’m not totally surprised at Dryden’s mastry. I read her Steampunk enovella, The Lamplighter’s Love and was impressed by the world she created but most of all the dynamic of master and teacher portrayed in that work. It seems to be a specialty of hers!

Delphine Dryden also has a terrific website which an example of what a great author website should be – obvious social networking links, a stunningly beautiful design, her books clearly highlighted and easy to find. It’s not a shock then to read in the author credits on the novella that she designs websites in her spare time. I was also pleased to see such a gorgeous cover for the book (I’m so tired of mediocre erotica covers), but then, that’s Carina Press for you. Their covers are always terrific.

So if a friend says they don’t understand the whole BDSM thing or isn’t willing to fork over full price for Fifty Shades of Grey without knowing more, have them try this great value for the money enovella first to see if they like it. At under $4, it’s a bargain for someone wanting to see if this type of romance is for them.

How Racy is Racy? Exploring levels of sensuality in romance novels

10 Mar

All About Labels

As a lover of romance, I rely heavily on reviews, both from blogs I follow as well as from professional sources like Romantic Times magazine. One aspect of the reviews that still confuses me is the ratings system regarding the level of sensuality or sexuality in the novel itself. While I read all kinds of romance, I have to admit to liking the more sensual ones, probably because the content doesn’t embarrass me in the slightest as well as the fact that I love authors who can show the emotional progression of a couple in the context of the physical act of sex.

But I’ve also discovered that these rating systems vary from source to source and are incredibly vague. There is always a danger with labeling, however, as bookstores and libraries know. Right around the time Tipper Gore spoke before Congress regarding a labeling system for records (and they were vinyl records and tape cassettes back then, blast from the past!), there was yet another push for the physical labeling of books by reading level, a system the American Library Association spoke out strongly against.

This really meant by content (sex, violence, language, etc.) rather than by how hard the words were in the book, and libraries and bookstores resisted (just as music sellers did Tipper’s advocacy), knowing that labels tend to push readers away from books, rather than help them select the right book for the right time in their life. Having worked in libraries for most of my professional career, I can honestly say that each reader is different – a younger teen who has been through a lot in their life or is just more mature can easily handle a book with strong, more adult language and themes, while an immature 16 year old would be repelled and horrified by the content. Luckily, readers are extremely good at finding the book they need, usually through recommendations from librarians, friends, and booksellers who already know what they enjoy reading.  In helping literally thousands of readers make connections with books, I’ve never come across one who was corrupted by a book – they simply put it down if it was not what they wanted.

Ratings and Definitions

But this brohaha was about the physical labeling of books, versus the labeling in reviews about sexual content. I imagine the romance novel sensuality ratings system was probably an effort to help readers looking for a specific kind of romance sensuality level, or to assist readers actively wishing to avoid certain types of books to avoid discomfiture or disappointment. The most commonly used ratings system is the rather vague, but still helpful, “Sensuality Ratings” system employed by Romantic Times magazine, the romance industry’s major publication.

From RT Book Reviews in the description of their ratings system:

SENSUALITY RATINGS

Beginning with September 2006 issue reviews, these are the new sensuality ratings used for Historical Romance, Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense books:

SCORCHER — Borders on erotic. Very graphic sex.

HOT — Most romance novels fall into this category. Ranges from conventional lovemaking to explicit sex.

MILD — May or may not include lovemaking. No explicit sex.

What’s interesting is the fact that the Romantic Times‘ previous sensuality ratings system had more categories, yet were just as open to interpretation.  I’m sure the editors felt the revised version was a simpler approach when they made the switch to the current system in 2006, and I prefer it, but there continue to be a few loopholes. For example, the “Hot” category – what exactly do they consider to be “conventional sex“? I’m guessing they mean a man and a woman, but are we talking about just the missionary position? Does foreplay involving oral sex lean more toward the “explicit sex” end of the rating or does “explicit” just refer to word choice or level of detail in the description of whatever sexual act in which our characters are currently engaged?

For “Scorcher”, what does “borders on erotic” mean? This probably includes maybe a little bondage (like the regency romances who have the newly deflowered heroine trusting her lover/husband to tie her hands with his cravat) but my feeling is that it probably doesn’t mean anal sex or the use of sex toys, since that never comes up in any romance not labeled erotica or erotic romance. The “Very graphic” detail (my conjecture) means the level of description and maybe the wording used to write the love scene, but does it mean something else?  I don’t know.

The contemplation of the nuances of “Scorcher” brings me to the other hurdle of understanding erotica, a term which many readers feel is interchangeable with the preferred label of “erotic romance“.  The erotica industry experienced a major infusion of cash and interest upon the advent of the ereader market, since suddenly people could buy this material in the comfort of their own living room and have it delivered instantly and wrapped simply in their standard Kindle or Nook reader.  No one would guess that the reader wasn’t reading the latest nonfiction best seller on economics unless they noticed the flush or sweating (and even then, maybe the person just REALLY likes economics!).

But erotica is still confused with pornography, and while I would imagine people who find that level of explicit sexual description or conduct against their personal morality would undoubtedly label it as such, in actuality from an industry standpoint it’s very different. According to Ellora’s Cave Publishing House, a highly respected e-publisher of erotica, they actually define the majority of their erotic offerings as “Romantica.” Here’s their take on Romantica, which seems to define rather well the industry push toward producing erotic romance meant for women.

Romantica® is the name for the line of erotic romance novels published by Ellora’s Cave Publishing. Erotic romance is defined by us as: any work of literature that is both romantic and sexually explicit in nature. Within this genre, the main protagonists develop “in love” feelings for one another that culminate in a monogamous relationship.

Romantica® doesn’t begin from the premise that women’s sexual experiences are dirty and therefore in need of being perfumed up by flowery phrases. The premise of Romantica™ is that women’s sexual experiences are legitimate, positive, and beautiful.

Ellora’s Cave Romantica® must be both erotic and romantic. (from the Ellora’s Cave website)

There’s a lot to love about this description.  First the clarification that a work can be both romantic and sexually explicit (Jaci Burton’s novels are often termed erotic romance and I think they would have an extremely broad appeal to romance readers who enjoy “Scorcher” novels), and the reassurance that these are still novels based on the premise of two people pursuing a monogamous relationship. But then the awesome addition (and let’s face it, the judgment) of the sentence regarding women’s sexuality as not being dirty? This really hit home for me, as the euphemisms often employed by romance writers can border on the ridiculous and occasionally the confusing, particularly if the reader has less sexual knowledge or experience (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books recent hymen tirade was a hilarious but totally spot on example of myths perpetuated by romance novels that do NOT accurately reflect the realities of human anatomy).

For readers interested in true erotica, which usually takes the form of an individual character interested in sexual experimentation and self-discovery, the process of which may or may not result in the main character ending up in a committed relationship, Ellora’s Cave publishes a line called EXOTIKA™ in order to distinguish it from the erotic romance novels they also sell.  But let’s get down to brass tacks regarding the sensuality levels so we can ATTEMPT to really figure out what they mean.

Levels of Sensuality in Romance Novels

Sweet Romance (Mild Sensuality)

Christie Craig and Faye Hughes in their book The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel defines a sweet romance as one that does not include “graphic depictions of sex or sexual situations.”  This could be a romance like those of the Avalon Publishing house (whose writer’s guidelines clearly state that there is no sexual content or profanity in any of their books) or an inspirational romance (which is also a sub-genre of romance) in which strong religious beliefs guide the main characters actions and usually don’t go beyond kissing without marriage.

An increasingly popular sub-sub-genre (can I say that?) of inspirational romance is the Amish romance, which naturally has a setting which subscribes to certain values.  I was interested to read that these Amish books have a strong readership in Hasidic Jewish communities along with Georgette Heyer‘s Regency romances.  It makes sense when you stop to think that the protagonists are in a culture which prescribes to strong morals regarding pre-marital sex, allowing the focus to be solely on the love and affection developing between our hero and heroine.

Some sweet romance novels have a history strongly rooted in the romance novels published decades ago in which there were sexual situations inferred but, rather than description, the author engaged in what became known in the industry as “shutting the bedroom door”.  The narrative leads up to the sexual situation with kissing, touching and conversation, and then stops, picking up again after the sex act has taken place with the reader reengaged in the narrative usually centering on the main characters’ feelings about what transpired. All About Romance.com refers type of book in their own sensuality rating chart as “subtle”.

Notice also the cover art.  Usually there is only ONE of our main characters on the cover, or if both are present, they are not kissing or embracing.  Cover art is often a terrific cue as to the sensuality content of the novel, but more on this later.

Historical RomanceContemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense books (Hot Sensuality)

Let’s first begin the non-sweet romance with a look at what makes a book fall into the “Hot” sensuality rating.  All About Romance.com actually labels this level as “Warm” and gives the following definition.

While our lovers do make love, and the reader is there with them, physical details are described, but are not graphically depicted. Much is left to the reader’s imagination and/or possibly the use of euphemistic “code words.” But what’s most important are feelings and emotions, not body parts. While there is sexual tension, there may not be more than one or two love scenes in the whole book. The vast majority of single title romances feature “Warm” sensuality. (All About Romance Sensuality Ratings Guide)

The best way to envision this description in action is to connect it with specific authors or titles.  Nora Roberts, one of the most successful romance novelists since Barbara Cartland, is probably the best example.  No reader could accuse her characters of lacking heat or sexual tension, but there are usually just a few described love scenes in her books and they conclude quickly.  When I read her recent book, Chasing Fire, about the special wildfire firefighters who parachute into locations to battle fires (it was so interesting!) our two main characters (who were wonderful) had a few love scenes where I double checked the pages, flipping back to make sure I didn’t miss something.  It was over so quickly, yet the emotion and tenderness was there.  They didn’t just have sex those couple of times, since other interludes were referred to in the narrative, but the timeframe was also compressed, so it didn’t feel like I was missing anything (other than the description I was used to from my other reading, which usually falls into the “Scorcher” category).

In terms of book cover clues, you can see from both Robert’s cover above and Mary Balogh‘s Slightly Scandalous cover that the trend is for an extremely tame cover, usually with the author name and book title in elaborate, feminine script, and maybe an image which hints at the content.  I think a big piece of the move to this kind of cover is both the fact that I can’t imagine it’s expensive to produce and the idea that it’s very tasteful.  No danger of being judged reading one of these on a plane (and airport bookstores carry a full selection of novels in this category).

This choice can also be a deliberate attempt of the publishing industry to give legitimacy to the romance novel, which, as a genre, underwent a huge public opinion downturn in the 1970s and 80s when “bodice-rippers” became the norm.  You can all imagine the kind of cover I’m talking about – some painting version of Fabio in a pirate outfit (which lacks buttons of any kind, so it’s waxed chest city) and a heroine of the heaving bosom variety (think Johanna Lindsey’s Savage Hunter).  Romance fans and publishers are still clawing our way out of this hole.  A few publishing houses and authors are moving to the “dress” book cover, which often just features a heroine (often cut off at the neck, so it’s just her body we see) in appropriate dress (perhaps with the ties in the back gaping provocatively open).  This is usually for historical romances only, but the body language still hints at sensuality.

Historical RomanceContemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense books (Scorcher Sensuality)

At the next sensuality level, we see books with more frequent, longer love scenes, often with more explicit language, or sometimes simply a higher incidence of euphemisms. As AllAboutRomance.com indicates “Both the emotions of the hero and heroine and the physical feelings of both are important during love scenes.” Stephanie Laurens, whose Cynster series I agree is one of the best Regency romance series EVER, is a master of this type of sensuality.  Her love scenes can last for seven pages easily, but the reader is gripped the whole time by both the physical orchestration of what is happening, and also the internal narrative of the character’s emotional process, as she switches deftly between the two viewpoints so we appreciate the emotion developing in our couple.

From a cover standpoint, you can see historical romances like Laurens’ still get the dress cover, but in the case of Karen Marie Moning‘s Highlander series, we begin to edge toward the what will be a determined trend in the erotic romance novel category, namely more skin on the cover and occasionally provocative poses that indicate a sexual connection. Moning is a good example for this category’s more explicit qualities.  While Stephanie Laurens got her start in writing Regency romance for traditional publishing houses (and her attachment to euphemisms continues even while what she’s describing gets hotter), Moning’s Highlander stories usually center around a modern woman zapped back into the past (medieval Scotland). This construct gives permission for the language to be more modern and explicit, shying away from the “throbbing manroot” brand of language (thank heavens!).  Other “Scorcher” authors include the ever fabulous Lisa Kleypas, paranormal princess Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie series, Linda Howard, my personal favorite Nalini Singh, and Nora Robert’s mystery persona of J. D. Robb.  Publishing houses to look for are some Harlequin Blaze books, Avon’s Red imprint, and the Berkley Sensation line.

Erotic Romance Novels (Erotic Sensuality)

Welcome to the skin factory, aka erotic romance novels.  It’s of particular interest to note that Romantic Times magazine, whose sensuality ratings system we have just finished exploring, bumps erotic romance novels into the erotica category (lumping it with traditional erotica as described above). The problem with this is that erotic romance novels are often just a shade more spicy than their scorcher predecessors, and therefore have much more in common with that category than with the more explicit and hedonistic forays undertaken by characters in traditional erotica.

With such amorphous lines determining sensuality content, I guess you can’t please everyone, but I worry that there are a lot of Romantic Times readers who just skip the erotica section not realizing there might be some content that fits their taste.  While people who enjoy sweet romances might check out the Inspirational category (which is also separate, I guess making Inspirational and Erotica opposite ends of the spectrum), erotica has a somewhat dirtier or even more masculine association (with pornography) that could have women shying away from it.

It would be a shame if readers comfortable with scorcher level romance don’t try erotic romance novels, since the focus is identical to traditional romance – two people falling in love (and lust) with the goal being a committed monogamous relationship.  The Harlequin Blaze line falls into this category (and also into the Scorcher category depending on the author) as well as novels from the Berkley Heat imprint (which gives us the Jaci Burton novels pictured above).  Lisa Marie Rice‘s books are terrific erotic romance novels (she’s queen of the Alpha males) and offer commanding love scenes that make you need to dump ice in your panties!

Content usually is inventive and explicitly described lovemaking, still with a strong emotional connection. Profanity is common, so expect the occasional f-bomb or name for female and male genitalia that many people would consider vulgar or common. But, the fact is, after you read these words for a little while, they seem (at least to me) just another euphemism, albeit one you might hear more often in your daily life (particularly if you walk by construction sites or basketball courts with pick-up games in progress).

The sexual content often goes beyond what is in the “Scorcher” category, including sometimes (and I mean sometimes, not all of them have this) sex toys and anal sex and maybe some mild BDSM.  I realize this might make some people uncomfortable and I confess that my eyebrows were initially embedded in my hairline when I read my first few books which included this content, but a good author makes the sex all about trust and love with these acts placed in that context, so the reader quickly adjusts.  I think a valued part of the increasing popularity of this category is that readers have a more varied understanding of a wide range of sexual activity, maybe helping those people who interests lie in these areas understand that they are part of a normal sexual spectrum.

I confess to buying my erotic romance in ebook format both for accessibility but also for toting around with zero embarrassment (and this article in Fast Company magazine says I’m not alone).  I’m not sure I would take a print version of these books into a doctor’s office or hair salon without garnering extra attention or comments! Authors and series to look for in this category include Angela Knight, steampunk and paranormal author Meljean Brook, J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Hope Tarr, my favorite shifter writer Shelly Laurenston, Lisa Renee Jones, paranormal author Larissa Ione, and Kresley Cole.

Implications for the Romance Industry

The way we view the incidence of sensuality in romance novels can have interesting implications for the industry and for society.  Tracey Cooper Posey, erotic romance author and industry commentator, had an interesting analysis based on the trend analysis All Romance eBooks distributes to their publishers. Regarding the heat index in romance novels (which they grade by “flames”, one being the lowest level and five being the highest), they state:

Heat Rating = over 97% of sales are on books rated 3 or higher, of significance is that the 5 and 4 flame sales have see a combined drop of 4% over last year with most of the difference shifting to the 3 flame rating.

Does this mean that the reading public is moving to the tamer “mild” or “hot” books, leaving “scorcher” and erotic romance novels to gather dust?  Tracey has an interpretation I agree with, that publishers are marketing books that would have been previously considered erotic romance right alongside their “hot” and “scorcher” books.  Just like television, which used to cordon off certain sexual situations or levels of violence to prime time but that you can now watch during your dinner hour, the romance publishing industry has come to understand that reader interests (and perhaps, tolerance levels) in that hot/scorcher/erotic category are becoming more permissive and accepting.

I hope this overview has helped answer some questions or directed you to resources that can help figure out this unending puzzle.  Labels are never perfect, but with a good understanding of what they truly refer to, we can use them as a guide to find ever more new and wonderful books and authors.

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