I am on a reading tear. In the past five days, I have read two and a half novels, mostly out of aggressive avoidance of work and other sundry responsibilities. In the past I've discussed the role of romance novels as stabilizing forces in women's lives, especially women in crisis. But I haven't yet discussed their role as escapist sources of jolly good fun. I grab a romance novel whenever I don't want to think about anything except lovey-dovey, huggy-kissy, sexy-sexytime things. Which is most of the time.
Beautiful Bastard by two women who write under their combined first names, Christina Lauren. The writing in Beautiful Bastard is better than the writing in Fifty Shades, less rambling and more deliberate about character development. There is a believable, legitimate, immediate reason why the two main characters should not get together, which compels and repels their wanting to get into each other's skivvies pretty much all the time. The heat level is high, but not particularly spicy--no detailed descriptions of genitalia, for example, nor mention of bodily fluids that I can recall. And just like billionare-boyfriend category romance novels, Beautiful Bastard taught me a lot about luxury brand names, La Perla for example, which makes posh lingerie. A La Perla corset goes for the same price as four new tires for my Honda Civic.
What was new and exciting about Beautiful Bastard, and again, this might be new to just me since I am new to the genre, is that there's an Opposite Day thing going on. The relationship arc between Bennett and Chloe, the two main characters, follows the complete opposite arc of most romance novels. In the typical romance novel, two people become attracted to each other then build an emotional relationship that leads to sex. In Beautiful Bastard, the opposite is true: the two protagonists begin with a sexual relationship that leads to an emotional connection. Eventually. There is plenty of purely physical hooking up beforehand.
Private Practice by Samanthe Beck. In this one, Ellie, the female protagonist is a doctor who returns to her small-town home to look after her father and start up her own practice. When she finds out that her old flame Roger has called off his engagement because his fiancee isn't as sexual adventurous as he is, Ellie asks Tyler, the town bad boy, to give her sex lessons in order to snag Roger. One of my favorite features of this book is how the author creates euphemisms for various sex acts by employing the chapters of Ellie's sex guide. Por ejemplo:
When [Tyler] came to the tab on chapter 13, however, he paused, reread the title, and then glanced through the text and illustrations to make sure he hadn't misinterpreted anything..."I'm vetoing this one."Later on, he tries to "chapter 13" Ellie. Clever, no? Private Practice's Ellie and Tyler are much more playful than the protagonists in Beautiful Bastard, but their relationship follows the same pattern: physical intimacy leads to emotional intimacy. Opposite Day hits again.
"Well, first off, you won't like it, and second, in case you had other ideas, I sure as hell don't want you doing it to me."
Beautiful Stranger, Christina Lauren's sequel to Beautiful Bastard. In this one, Chloe's friend Sara and Bennett's friend Max continue the pattern of endless hookups all over the big city. I'm going to take a wild leap of faith and predict that all of this sexing will lead to real affinity pretty soon.
Sara and Max, who is English, have a really hot session on a rooftop during the Fourth of July that made me want to find a big Brit to yankee doodle my dandy. Max's nickname for Sara is "Petal." I think that is so hot. I believe all red-blooded American women have a thing for guys from the UK; in addition, One Direction Infection has taken down half of the new generation. This makes me think of Colin from Love Actually: "I am Colin. God of sex. I'm just on the wrong continent, that's all." He's right.
There have got to be couples in the world who began as casual hookups that morphed into something more emotionally significant, right? As a twist on the traditional beats of a romance novel plot, the physical-emotional reversal is one I enjoy and one that allows both readers and writers to dive headlong into higher-frequency, hotter, more inventive sex. When the protagonists take a breather from humping like bunnies and realize that they have much more in common than sex, the epiphany is just as surprising and satisfying as that first mutual orgasm.