I found Charlotte Stein, erotica author, via twitter. She’s cute and funny, and has a way with words even in 140 characters, so I decided to give it a try. I didn’t have exceedingly high hopes, however, because I’d already discovered that being nice and cool on twitter didn’t correlate with writing great books. It CAN, certainly, it’s just not a given, not at all.
So, you can imagine my surprise when the first few pages blew me away. And, as I read on, it proceeded to get even better. This is one of the best erotica books I’ve read in a very long time. Let’s say… top 5 ever. And that’s coming from someone who’s read a fair amount of erotica and erotic romance (check my GoodReads shelves).
In fact, if you consider what type of erotica this is, it’s the best I’ve ever read. I’m going to try to describe what type it is, though the explanation of that is a tad long. Let’s start with what’s it’s not: it’s not angsty. Which makes it slightly weird that I love it, considering I usually go for the angst. Some erotica greats, like Broken by Megan Hart or The Reluctant Dom by Tymber Dalton, infuse other dramatic subjects with the sex. This book is all about sex.
I actually started this bit of writing here as a review for the book to put on GoodReads, but it morphed into this, and so now it’s here. If you want the short version of this review, it’s “go read this book! It’s amazing. It’s insanely hot. You’ll thank me later.” And to make your life even easier, here’s a link to it on GoodReads and Amazon.
When erotica first exploded as a genre, there was a surplus of brainless smut. It was tab A goes into slot B type of stuff. So readers cried out that they wanted emotion, and erotica swung away from the pornerific Penthouse letters type stuff into romance. Even then, though, it felt circumstantial. Like, our characters really just want to have sex. But that makes some of us uncomfortable, to think about sex without love, without emotion, so we add in that they also happen to love each other. It made the sex more palatable to that puritanical part of us.
That was fine but then we had too much of even that. They fall in love and have sex. Or they have sex and they fall in love. We need MORE, readers cried. We need an actual plot. So authors started putting in plots, things that had absolutely NOTHING to do with sex, or even the relationship. Kind of random, honestly.
Erotica author Tiffany Reisz said on twitter recently that adding a serial killer does not make a plot. That made me laugh, because I knew what she meant, even though I don’t personally mind it. Erotica has a lot of serial killers. And the worst part about them, to me, is that they don’t actually kill that often. We are told that they are big bad murderers, and the heroine is usually stalked by them and scared of them, and that drives some of the conflict, but in the end, the serial killers are toothless. They aren’t villain’s worthy of the title. And so it’s a very superficial subplot, at best, at least when it’s executed as described here.
That said, I’ve still enjoyed some of these books and will continue to in the future. In fact, that is true of ALL the types of erotica I just mentioned. I read erotic suspense and erotic historicals and erotic romance and straight erotica and even Penthouse letter-ish “wank stories”. I like it all.
But the thing that makes this book special, Control by Charlotte Stein, is that it’s all about the sex. There is technically a subplot, about her bookstore, but even that feeds into the sex. And I love it. As soon the book opens, there is crazy hot sex. Not much longer after that, there is crazy hot sex. And… well, you get the idea. A non-stop crazy hot sex book.
So you might think this is one of those tab-A-slot-B stories, but it’s not. The story is so neatly intertwined with the sex that it’s inseparable, like a steel thread in a tightly woven braid. And, even better, the plot isn’t just what happens in those few moments between the sex. The plot IS the sex, which is what erotica should be, but so often is not. The plot is ALL THE TIME. We don’t have to take breaks in the plot for the sex or breaks in the plot for the non-sex. Thank you, Jesus. Or Charlotte, I should say.
But the very best thing about this book is the writing. It’s incredibly beautiful and fluid. As a lover of words, I just want to hug this book, take it for a walk and make it my pet. That sounds kind of silly, but I think if you love words, too, and you read this book, you’ll know what I mean. It’s so precise, so perfectly calibrated to hit the right pitch, it’s almost surreal. But at the same time, it’s incredibly accessible. There’s no overlarge words or flowery language to distract from the story.
The worst part of this book, by the way, is the title. “Control”? Ugh. Yes, control is a major theme of the book, but it feels like a working title. Something to call the project, not something to publish it with. It should have been called Wicked Words (the name of the bookstore in the story) or, well, a lot of other possibilities. It’s just so generic. It doesn’t live up to the story. The title promises me a hum-ho BDSM-esque book and delivers one of the most well written erotica pieces I’ve ever seen. And the cover, bleh. It’s pretty, but too generic as well. I can think of a number of the scenes in the book that would have looked great visually. But really, if those are the worst things I can think to say about this book, I think we are in darn good shape, no?
And lastly, I’m going to talk about something that is TMI (too much information), but it’s erotica and it’s relevant so here goes. One of the subject this book plays with is masturbating while reading erotica. Now, I’ve done it before, but I don’t usually do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe it’s because I read a lot of erotica, and at some point your fingers get tired, but I don’t think it’s that. Maybe it’s that I’m immune to the hotness after so much erotica. Maybe.
But mostly I think I just enjoy the genre, the way that other people enjoy science fiction or women’s lit. I just like to read it, and despite the subject matter, it’s not about sex for me. If I get aroused, it’s like a pleasant little hum, like squeezing your thighs together on a plane. It’s a way to make passing the time more pleasurable, but it’s not the main event. It’s not the reason you’re there.
But this book… oh my gawd. In the very first scene, I was about to, well, you know. All on its own. I was shocked. Where had that come from? Ah, well, I thought, it was nice that it started with a bang, now we’ll settle down into a nice comfortable erotic story. And then bam, again, and I’m 99% there, all from reading. And yes, <TMI>I couldn’t help myself. Repeatedly</TMI>. That wasn’t why I read the book, it wasn’t even the reason why I most enjoyed the book the most (that was still the words), but oh, it was nice.
The bottom line, I want my erotica to have a lot of sex AND I want it to have a plot. Depending on your perspective as an avid erotica reader or an author or whomever you are, you might say to that, “duh,” or you might say, “you ask for too much!” or something else. But I’ve got to tell you, that’s not easy to find. So this delivered exactly what I wanted, and it managed to do it without any of the heartbreaking angst that I usually require to feel anything at all about a book.