Sex and Intimacy part 2 – reflections on particular books

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As promised, I’m coming back to the topic of sex and intimacy in romance books, but this time I’m looking at a few recent reads and the stuff in them that I thought was interesting about how the sex scenes worked with the overall story. Time has moved on since my last post, and I am ever fickle, so I’m going to talk about a slightly different list of books than I mentioned in the last post.

First up is Unbound by Cara McKenna. Cara McKenna is a completely new to me author. I heard about Unbound when I noticed a couple of tweets about it. Jill Sorenson said (I think) that it had been a favourite of hers last year and that made me swipe my tablet screen to Amazon and get a sample before flipping back to Twitter. In such ways are sales made and gloms begun! I never sample or buy a book based on a promo tweet that tries to hook me in re what it’s about (When a were-pig meets a flame demon, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire!). It’s the word-of-mouth I go to Twitter for.

But I digress.

Unbound. This was story of American Merry, who has recently lost a lot of weight and is hiking in Scotland. She falls ill and has to seek help from Englishman Rob, who lives alone in the remote Highlands. At length, they get together and Merry discovers that Rob has a rope fetish and is submissive. At greater length, she discovers he is also an alcoholic who has isolated himself to get away from the temptation to drink.

This is a story in which one character’s very specific fetish is explored and analysed alongside the other character’s much more ‘normal’ sexuality. I thought McKenna did some very interesting stuff around how sex and intimacy relate to both characters’ personal development and the way they fall in love. It features, unusually in romance, a hero who in one scene is unable to perform (in an early vanilla encounter with the heroine). It also features a heroine who is frank about what she wants but not in an aggressive way – MacKenna portrayed Merry’s sexual straightforwardness in a way that read very truthfully to me.

Merry was a satisfying character all round. At the start of the book, she is partway through a journey towards gaining power over her life and her body – her confidence has grown already, following substantial weight loss – and she doesn’t need Rob to repair her or make her whole. But it turns out that giving Rob what he needs further builds her confidence and power and satisfies her too.

I loved that Merry didn’t discover some burning desire to be a domme. Rather, she falls in love with someone, gains satisfaction from giving that person what he wants, and finds her own power from asking him for what she wants too. For me, this book did something a lot more interesting than putting a whip in the heroine’s hand. It showed a heroine becoming truly active – both sexually and emotionally – leaving all conventional female passivity behind. Really, it’s about female independence and it’s beautifully written too.

Next up is A Case for Possession, book 2 in K J Charles Magpie Lord series. I loved this, more than book 1 even. I adore the characters in this series, but most especially Lord Crane who is everything I love in a hero – a mixed up ambiguous fellow if ever I met one.  So, what was it, sexually, about this book that bears mention?

K J Charles did something very interesting in this book – she shuns the typical approach to sex scenes in romance (see last post) with paced “set pieces”. Instead, she makes lots of delicious little sideways references to the two MCs’ very hot sexual relationship without doing sustained sex scenes.

As I read, I found myself thinking a lot about the conventions I am so used to, the deliberate escalation and variation of sexual content that is so much about reader expectation and romance convention and so little about character and story development. I was intrigued to find that KJC’s frequent but more passing references were more than ample to reassure me that the MCs are sexually compatible (important to me) and to give the book a sexy feel. Loved it.

Finally, I have to mention the book I am reading right now, Transcendence, by Shay Savage. This book may get a blog post all of its own because I am  loving it in many ways. However, I’m talking about sex scenes today, so I’ll limit myself to that aspect of the book.

This is a book in which the reader is invited to conclude – via the prehistoric hero’s internal (and very endearing) POV – that the heroine has arrived in his world through time travel. The hero, Ehd, lost his entire tribe years before Beh (Elizabeth) falls into a hunting trap he dug and he cannot believe his good fortune that a mate has dropped into his lap like this. Ehd has no speech and a very different view of the world than Beh (or us). He is something of a blank slate with virtually no cultural baggage regarding sexual behaviour. He is delighted by any sign of interest from Beh and makes no judgments about her behaviour beyond that.

Whilst the plausibility of this is probably up for debate, I’m not awfully interested in that – I think there are more interesting things going on. The fact is, this set up neatly disrupts the reader’s normal assumptions around what is sexually acceptable – there are no rules for Ehd and Beh. They discover sex together, openly and honestly, and that is the great joy of this book.

Transcendence also provides much food for thought on the universality of human love and desire as well as many entertaining nuggets on the eternal differences between men and women, but I’ll leave those observations for another day.

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6 responses to “Sex and Intimacy part 2 – reflections on particular books

  1. This is such a lovely post, and that is such a good way of looking at Unbound, that this heroine’s power of understanding and assertion of her desire is more powerful than a whip. I’ve noticed that in a lot of McKenna’s work, the relationship of a heroine and her desire as a kind of arc. Such great stuff. I heard about this caveman book and I thought it sounded like a joke. Now I have to read it!!

  2. I finished a Case of Possession a couple of weeks ago, and have read a couple of romances since then – and have been exploring the theme of sex and sexual obsession in something I’m working on, so this post and your previous got me thinking on a couple of levels.
    A number of books I’ve read recently have been so graphic in their description of sex, and they have been so frequent that its kind of mind numbing. As a reader creativity is important to me in sex scenes not frequency and certainly not a genitalia dictionary in lieu of good writing.
    So going to read the Shay Savage book, I loved Surviving Raine + also the Evan Arden books

    • I had a similar experience with a numbingly frequent sex book – to the extent the book really was no more than a series of sex scenes strung together with brief paras. No other characters than the MCs to speak of and everything happened in 4 interior settings. I’m not sure why I ploughed through, but I did and then reached the end only to discover it was book 1 in a series with the MCs story continuing in the next book. What story?

  3. I loved A Case of Possession even better than The Magpie Lord too Joanna. Such an interesting dynamic between the two men in the first book and such a wonderful tense pacing/structure in the second. I liked that the conflict in book 2 was organic and not based on silly misunderstandings and that they worked it out together. It’s all that I love in romance. *happy sigh*

    I have wishlisted Transcendence for now – I wish you would write a whole post about it. There are tons of squeeing reviews at Amazon and Goodreads but to read a review from someone I trust has more meaning for me and when I am on the fence about a book, a review rather than just a recommendation (which can be sometimes enough, but not always) makes the difference as to whether I click “buy”.

    I listened to Unbound on audio and the narrator didn’t work for me unfortunately. She is popular with many though so I think it’s just the me/her combination which isn’t a success rather than anything wrong per se. I struggled to get into the story for a number of reasons and I’ve kept it in the back of my mind to consider regarding future FemDom books I might read – the only other one I’ve read is Natural Law byJoey W. Hil and that is such a different book that it’s very difficult to compare. I wondered if I just didn’t like the female being dominant? I don’t know the answer to this (I liked Natural Law very much) but, like I say, it’s something I’ve got percolating in the back of my mind.

    • I do intend to blog about Transcendence. I picked up Surviving Raine after (given how many people tweeted me after this post to tell me they loved it) but I’m not loving SR at all and think Transcendence is a far better book. So if you’ve read SR, I wouldn’t assume too much from it. Though they do have some interesting aspects in common. On which I hope to blog further.

      I must admit audiobooks don’t work me. I didn’t think of Unbound as femdom, though the label fits, I suppose. I prefer books that shun labels though, and this, I think was one of those.

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