Category Archives: adult

Lip Service

Lip Service
by M. J. Rose
Published by Piatkus Books
320 pages
Genre: adult literature
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes

If you are trapped in a staid, sexless marriage, how do you cope? How do you adapt? What if you don’t realize how staid and sexless it is until your eyes are opened by fate’s whimsy?

Julia Sterling has a fairly content marriage to her psychiatrist husband Paul. She is stepmother to his college freshman son, hostess at his fundraising parties, and provides him with the comfort he needs … outside of the bedroom. They rarely, if ever, have sex, something Paul does not appear to miss (he takes that in hand, so to speak). While Julia would like more intimacy, she convinces herself that she is if not happy, then at least comfortable.

At a dinner party one night, she meets Sam Butterfield, director of the eponymous Institute that specializes in sex therapy. One of the treatments offered patients is phone sex. When Sam asks Julia if she would like to write a book detailing the efficacy of phone sex, she agrees, much to Paul’s disapproval. Paul attempts to psychoanalyze her out of this decision, just as he attempts to psychoanalyze her throughout their relationship. But Julia is determined, so determined that she begins working as a phone sex operator so that she will understand what the job entails.

Further complicating Julia’s marriage is her longstanding friendship with Jack, a man she met in college. Julia suffered a breakdown in school, and Jack found and took care of her. They are attracted to each other, but have not allowed that attraction to destroy their friendship. As Julia immerses herself in phone sex, Jack’s reaction surprises her. In fact, Jack himself begins to surprise her.

Julia’s reactions, you see, are quite intense. Sometimes during a call, she pleasures herself physically while pleasuring her client vocally. The loss of sex in her marriage begins to eclipse what she and Paul do share, and his increasing attention to her in a doctor-patient sense frustrates her, as do his attempts to minimize her feelings. ‘Sterling’ is a good name for these people; in Paul’s case, the sterling is tarnished and warped, while in Julia’s, a true reflection begins to form.

Some intrigue is introduced relating to one of Julia’s clients, and Jack comes to town to visit her. She is forced to confront what she has missed seeing reflected back at her, both professionally and personally.

This is a fantastic, taut book that will keep you turning the pages. You may not always like Julia – she certainly can cause her own problems to some degree – but you do want what’s best for her. Despite being about phone sex, there is not much actual sex in this book. What little appears is fairly tame, although the language is graphic. I read somewhere that this book has been compared to Fear of Flying and the Fifth Shades series. Comparisons to the former insult Erica Jong, while comparisons to the latter insult M. J. Rose. Lip Service is neither. Rather, it is an interesting look into the dynamics of marriage and friendship. The phone sex is just a means toward that end.

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Filed under adult, not erotica no matter what you've read to the contrary

Heaven Should Fall

Heaven Should Fall
by Rebecca Coleman
Published by Harlequin MIRA
368 pages
Genre: family, literature, adult
Available Sept. 25
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes

Some of us grow up wishing we were part of a family, even if we had one. In the case of Jill Wagner, she has no one. Her mother died in a shocking accident, her father has never been in the picture, and her grandparents are dead. So when Jill meets Cade Olmstead in college, she falls hard. Not just for Cade, but for the promise of what he represents.

First, there is his charm. As Jill acknowledges, Cade is good looking, intelligent, and has a certain sheen of smoothness. It helps that his chosen career is politics. His passion for Jill runs unabated, even in the midst of dire moments for the two of them. And he is ambitious, intently focused on getting a job with a politician for whom he campaigns.

But as with all bright shiny things, if you rub away the pretty exterior, you sometimes find tarnish and rust. In Cade’s case, he tries to cover it up by tanning. Yes, tanning. The boy spends copious amounts of time turning his pasty New Hampshire-bred skin into a more cosmetically desirable brown.

But Jill is in love, and even before she discovers she is pregnant, the two are engaged, with Jill envisioning the family she no longer has and Cade imagining the perfect political spouse. That pregnancy, however, changes the dynamic of their relationship. For one thing, Cade needs to get a job. When he can’t find one in their Maryland college town, he reluctantly – very reluctantly – packs up Jill and takes her to stay with his family for the summer.

This is the first time she meets them, because Cade didn’t bring her home with him for any previous holidays, believing that Christmas by herself on the deserted campus is better than spending it with his family. She has met his older brother Elias, recently home from an Army stint in Afghanistan.

It doesn’t take long for us to see why Cade avoided bringing Jill home as long as he did. His family is, in a word, nuts. And not in a lovable, eccentric kind of way. More in a fear-for-the-gene-pool kind of way.

Cade’s father, Eddy, debilitated from a series of strokes, nonetheless retains the meanness that helped drive Cade out of the state. Mother Leela appears to be accepting of her life, until Rebecca Coleman takes us into Leela’s mind and we discover that there is a lot more going on here than we thought. Sister Candy is the stereotypical ignorant, silly blonde; her husband Dodge is significantly older than she is and they have three rambunctious young sons.

Then there is Elias. Clearly he struggles with post traumatic stress disorder, but he has been left largely ignored by military physicians who attempt to “fix” him by prescribing various painkillers and mood stabilizers. We learn that Elias has been in love with local girl Piper since his teens; we also learn that Cade stole her from his brother, even impregnating her. As Elias and Jill’s relationship deepens and intensifies, we watch with our breaths held. Will Elias exact retribution?

Elias, you see, is the only member of the family with whom Jill forms a connection. Yes, she tries to bond with Leela, even hoping that Leela will become her mother, but it is Elias who Jill offers comfort and compassion. She may not know about Piper, but she certainly knows that Elias begins to form an attachment to her.

Tragedy strikes this family, and we see it coming. The way they react, though, surprises us. Dodge, unflinchingly presented as a wacko, manages to display some decency – that is until he senses weakness in others, which he exploits much the way he did Candy when she was a teenager.

We spend most of the book in Jill’s mind, although Coleman sends us into Cade’s and Leela’s as well. When we spend time with Elias, it is in the third person, as if his trauma prevents even us from getting close to him. As the family deals with the aftermath of the tragedy, we become even more convinced that Cade was right: Jill is better off away from these people.

This is an intricate, heavy book, that is interesting and well written. Those of you who thought that white supremacists and right wing militias exist only in the south and midwest might be surprised to find that they rage in New England as well. Coleman uses them here to spotlight the plight of PTSD. If the Army overlooks its faithful servants, then what is there to stop subversive individuals from exploiting these people?

As for Jill, we alternately want to scream at her and protect her. She mistakes self-help mumbo jumbo for practical advice, and her desperation to be part of a family causes her to ignore some important signs of instability, both within Cade and his family.

Sometimes, Rebecca Coleman seems to say, the adage is true: be careful what you wish for.

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Filed under adult, family, literature

Those We Love Most

Those We Love Most
by Lee Woodruff
Published by Voice
320 pages
Genre: adult; literature; family
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5 cupcakes

I will kick off this review by stating that I really liked this book, although I really did not like many of its characters.

Meet the Corrigans, a typical suburban Chicago family of five: mother Maura, father Pete, and three adorable children.

Cue foreboding music now.

One sunny morning, as Maura walks her sons to school, an accident takes the life of her oldest son, nine-year-old James. The circumstances behind this death are slowly revealed, just as the guilt Maura feels slowly attempts to undo her. How Maura and Pete react to the loss of their son is the central story of the novel. Pete disgusts his wife, whether by talking to the person ostensibly responsible for James’s death or by drinking too much. But Maura has her own issues, and we are not quick to forgive her.

The other story is that of Maura’s parents, Roger and Margaret. These two are a bit more stereotypical than Maura and Pete: Roger is an aging banking wizard who has enjoyed the company of a woman not his wife, largely due to Margaret’s flinty personality. She is not a demonstrative woman, preferring to let her caretaking actions speak for her. Roger, on the other hand, believes he is entitled his flings, and the way in which he treats his Florida lover wins him no fans. Roger and Margaret face their own crisis, and the way in which they approach it echoes the differences between Maura and Pete.

Lee Woodruff writes with compassion, but she does not shrink away from her characters. They say and do loathsome things, and Woodruff makes no apologies for them. She lets us see what motivates them, but she does not excuse them, nor does she ask us to do so. What would you do if you lost a child? What would happen to your marriage? Pete and Maura are not held up as an example of how to deal with a tragedy, yet we do cheer for them to find their way. That is a testament to Woodruff’s writing, because there are times that Pete and Maura seem to beg for unhappiness.

The same goes for Margaret and Roger. Try liking one of those two. Just try! Margaret bestows her affection with great reluctance, and Roger’s inner whinging makes us think Margaret has a point. But his treatment of her is unkind at best.

I hated having to put this book down, because I got so engrossed in the stories of its characters. It is not light reading in the least, but it is good reading.

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Filed under adult, family, literature, tragedy and sadness