by Angela James, contemporary (2013)
Angela James, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-4797-7622-1
I initially assumed from the title and cover that Angela James's Erotica is all about the raunchy stuff. To my pleasant surprise, this one is as heavy on relationships as it is on the boinking.
Basically, this is a collection of episodes, so to speak, of varying lengths. Each episode gives me a peek into the relationship of a couple. Sex is a given, of course, but the author also shows me how these characters deal with other aspects of the relationship. Often, things can get messy. These stories have different themes - when friends cross the line, older woman-younger man, married man-single woman, boss-employee, and more. There's nothing here that's not been done before, but the author adds her spin to the familiar song and dance with varying degrees of success.
What I like about this collection of tales is how the author manages to demonstrate that she has a pretty good grasp of what makes her characters tick. When her characters are being silly, she lets me know that she's rolling up her eyes along with me. But silliness is often the side effect of romance, and the author has a pretty strong style of humor that makes her stories work. When her characters decide to be sensible, there is a degree of realness to many of these scenes. Ms James is pretty good at capturing her female characters' personalities on the pages of these stories.
Unfortunately, perhaps due to inexperience, the author doesn't quite succeed in creating different nuances in her main characters to make them different from one another. As a result, the stories start to feel too similar to one another, like the same people acting out different scenarios in the same style and voice. This is a pity because there are some pretty interesting themes here. The story Shawn And Debra, for example, explores the relationship between Debra and her very married Shawn. There are no illusions on Debra's part - Shawn is not leaving his wife and, come to think of it, his unavailability for the long haul is what attracts her to him - but eventually, what should have been simple ends up a little more complicated than both parties expected.
There are some pacing issues in some of these stories. Vance & Mali is a notable example: a simple story of a woman falling for a guy despite her best intentions is dragged down by filler scenes, abrupt time skips, and the story going on long after the climax of the story has been reached. Still, I find that even the weakest stories here have a quaint rawness to them. I find myself relating to how the female protagonists think and feel, and I often can see why they do and say the things they do.
As for the naughty scenes, the female protagonists happily reach out and grab what they want - yes, read that however you want, and you'll be correct, heh - and it's always enjoyable to read naughty stories where the heroines are not plagued by silly neurotic hang-ups and Catholic guilt. There is nothing here that pushes the envelope too much, but there is an exuberance in the way the heroines just enjoy their ride that makes these scenes, er, pretty fun to read.
I would be the first to admit that Erotica is on the unpolished side of things. It could use a few more rounds of polish, some tightening of pacing here and there, and the addition of some technical gloss (like strengthening the distinct personalities of the main characters of each story so that they don't resemble one another too much) that would hopefully come with experience. But the stories here manage to charm me despite the weaknesses present. The emotions feel real at many instances, as do the author's portrayal of the process of falling in lust and, later, love in these stories. All things considered, Erotica is quite alright where I'm concerned.
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