My First Smut

My First Smut: Literary Fiction Edition

My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?

This week, Kelly Lovall talks about coming to romance via Dickens.


First romance novel you read:

Great Expectations

How old were you?

14

How’d you get your hands on the book?

My English teacher gave me a copy.

What was the reading experience like?

The language was difficult at first but once the characters came into focus, I was hooked.

What made the experience special?

I had a crush on an older guy who was far outside my social circle and remember feeling, at the time, how hopeless love could feel.

What role does smut play in your life?

It’s a fun reminder that love and connection requires effort and imagination and sometimes, stepping out of the familiar


Bio: I write explicit erotic romance that examines the secret desires we all carry within us. I explore the physical and emotional needs and desires that connect us to each other, often testing the limits of our relationships. I enjoy writing, travel, jogging and wine.

You can find me here: Smashwords | Amazon | Twitter


Thanks Kelly! We’ll be honest, this is the first time we’ve had someone call out Dickens as smut inspiration.

Watch for our review of Kelly’s book Red Rock this weekend!

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Ménage Romances

This week at TSR, we’re focusing on ménage romances, mainly because Holly and Erin both read a bunch back to back sort of by accident. What can we say? We’re having a Very Sexy January! To kick things off, we had a discussion about ménage romances – the good, the bad, and the sexy.

Books we’ll be reviewing this week

Bottom line: Do you like the ménage à trois trope?

Holly: I do. I mean, it’s not my #1 go-to, but I think that ménage romances open up all kinds of possibilities – and not just for different bedroom configurations. There is double the possibility for misunderstanding and drama and angst, but also double the possibility for showing what different kinds of love and joy and compatibility can look like. 

Erin: Yep! I started reading them periodically because they’re hot, but as I’ve read more I really appreciate when I find the nuanced approach of three protagonists figuring out their feelings as they figure out the relationship dynamic. These stories really demonstrate trust in a partner, which is beautiful.

Ingrid: It’s definitely not my first choice. I love a good dose of messy in my characters, and I have no logical explanation for why this trope stresses me out, but it really does! Maybe because it feels like the potential for complications and heartbreak increases exponentially? Obviously, it’s romance, so I’m proven wrong every time…but the journey from start to HEA is still a nail-biter for me every time.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: I think it’s hot. Like, “Ooo, think about what two mouths and four hands could do!” So it safely taps into that fantasy for readers who probably are not going to engage in their own ménage. (Though that makes me wonder… Statistically how many people DO have threesomes?) But I also really love to read poly throuples finding a HEA – they have to deal with a lot more than an average couple – when monogamy still is widely considered the ultimate relationship goal. I think reading the trope in that context opens doors outside one’s own experience. Or, maybe more importantly, provides representation to people who don’t always see themselves represented on page.

Ingrid: I love that it’s yet another example of how humans just seem to have an endless capacity to create their own way of love and happiness–and of course, the erotic component can be very fun. I have been seeing more and more examples that really unpack what it means to fairly negotiate a relationship between three people and although I find that it’s not for me generally-speaking, it brings up a lot of interesting clarity about romantic relationships, period. How much happier would some monogamous people be if they were forced to negotiate and discuss the terms of their arrangement the way a ménage does? Because for a true HEA, that’s what’s required in these cases. And I find that incredibly refreshing.

Holly: I 100% agree with Ingrid here (except for the bit about it not being for me, because, as we’ve established, I really enjoy reading ménage romances). 

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: It’s a super sexy fantasy, so it’s fun to read the sexy rumpus versions of ménage, but at the same time, if that’s a person’s only expectation of how a ménage works, it ends up sort of perpetuating ideas that polyamory isn’t…I don’t know. Isn’t a real, meaningful, emotionally engaged relationship that the characters really choose to work at. 

I also don’t love it when one of the closed triad is reduced to a secondary status in the relationship. Like, if there’s an ending with marriage and everyone agrees that the legal marriage will be one way but there’s clearly an agreement among everyone that they’re all equally married, that’s fine, but a couple having a permanent plaything is…not my jam.

Ingrid: The early examples I read definitely seemed more stereotyped. Somewhat shallow, almost exclusively sexually-based encounters. It seems like this is one trope that has historically tended to either represent the relationship in either its dysfunction or its ideal–but as I said before, I would anticipate more thoughtful and romantic examples of this trope emerging in the future.

Holly: I think this is really about expectations. If you’re reading ménages because you want to see thoughtful portrayals of poly relationships, well, you need to choose wisely. But is the idea of two best friends deciding they want to share a woman inherently problematic? No.

What does the story need to accomplish in order for you to believe in the HEA/HFN?

Holly: Here’s the thing. I would categorize ménage romances into two broad categories: “let’s work out how our polyamorous relationship is going to work” and “sexy rumpus, double the fun”. If I’m reading a sexy rumpus book, then I just need to buy that these guys are compatible in the sack. 

But if I’m reading a ménage book that takes poly seriously then I want to see the characters actually talk about the logistics of how their relationship will work. Some of the questions I might want them to talk about include: Who, if anyone, will be legally married? Where will they live? Are all three on the same footing, or is one couple dominant and the third person is secondary to the relationship? 

Note: this is not to say that some sexy rumpus books don’t also address questions like this – just that I don’t necessarily need them to to be satisfied with the ending. 

Erin: So, I don’t need all of what Holly is expecting from a poly romance, because I feel like all of the ones I read involve a throuple exploring poly for the first time, and it’s not like this book takes place over the course of a year or multiple years. So what I expect is that the characters are roughly equally represented and equally well-rounded so that I can believe that they love each other in some equivalency that makes it reasonable that trust and respect and love is all present and accounted for. And then for their HEA what I’d be looking for is honestly what I’m looking for in a lot of contemporary romance, because most of the ones I read end not with an epilogue with marriage and kids but with the protagonists overcoming whatever the problem was and agreeing that they want to work on being together because that’s what’s important to them now.

Ingrid: I actually agree with Holly here–I need to understand what the desired outcome is for all parties involved or it’s very difficult for me to buy in and relax enough to enjoy the story.

Erin and Holly looked at their ménage romance reading and Erin whipped out the handy-chart-o-matic! Also known as Excel. So let’s look at some trends we’ve noticed. 

Here’s the distribution of the 15 books we included from our tracked reading:

And from these, we found the following breakdown of things that felt like trends while we were reading:

Holly: First, some points of clarification. The question, “is it polyamory?” refers to the dichotomy I mentioned earlier, about whether a book grapples with polyamory or is just about having a sexy rumpus. Also, the N/A in that category is a book where the protagonists are grappling with what polyamory might mean, but the book ends with a monogamous dyad because one of the triad suuuuuuucks and gets dumped. (My full review is here. I talk about penises a lot. Sorry for the spoiler.) 

Now, obviously 15 books is not a huge sample, but a couple of things strike me. The biggest is that there seems to be a dearth of FFM menage (at least in our reading lists), so I would appreciate some recommendations of good ones, please and thank you. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though, given how much more popular M/M romance than F/F romance seems to be. The other thing that is striking to me is how many books we’ve actually read where the protagonists actually do grapple with what polyamory would mean for them as a throuple – and I am all about this trend. 

Erin: So, I could have sworn that in the vast majority of the throuple books I’ve read, one of the three is dominant, at least in bed and possibly also in the throuple. Like the other two maybe just kind of needed a leader? Some glue? But actually the data doesn’t describe that at all, so those books must simply have been memorable. 

Holly: Just to butt in, Erin asked me about whether the ménages I’d read featured this dynamic and I was like…no. Never. So it is entirely possible that this IS the dynamic in all the throuple books that Erin’s reading. 

Erin: All the books that don’t have sword crossing are, as expected, sexy sex rather than polyamorous. And, for the record, that is significantly less fun to read than the sword-crossing variety of throuple.

Ingrid: Not to push Erin down the data rabbit hole, but I would be SO CURIOUS to take this information and track trends by pub date…I want to see how things have shifted and trended over time. 

What’s one book you loved that features this trope? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the trope?

Holly: I will take every opportunity to recommend She Whom I Love by Tess Bowery, partially because I never see anyone else talking about it. It’s a FFM regency romance featuring a tradesman, a maid, and an actress, and Bowery is able to explore all kinds of stuff about gender and class and power because of her choice of protagonists. Plus it’s sexy as hell. 

Erin: Three-Way Split by Elia Winters is AH-MAZE-ING. I was seriously (figuratively) concerned  that I was going to combust while I was reading the sex scenes, because HOLY WOW. But while Winters can write some sexy sex, she also does a totally exceptional job of treating polyamory with sensitivity and positivity. So if you’re looking for sex-positive poly erotic romance with a satisfying ending, just start here. 

Ingrid: I have to be honest, I can’t say that I’ve read one yet that I’d gush over–but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep looking!!

Dueling Review, Rant, Recommended Read

Dueling Review: Your Dad Will Do by Katee Robert (2020)

Erin made us buddy read Your Dad Will Do because she likes to make Ingrid uncomfortable. Which means it’s that time again: time for a dueling review!

A Touch of Taboo, Book 1

Let’s start by each giving our metric for rating the book: 

Erin:

Heat Factor: It’s … imaginative

Character Chemistry: Indisputably they have sexual chemistry

Plot: She found her fiance cheating, so she gets back at him by making a move on his dad

Overall: Well it’s definitely hot, but the interpersonal dynamics are…concerning

Holly:

Heat Factor: Yup, it’s sexy. And they like being watched, so the reader-voyeur is helping make it sexier. 

Character Chemistry: I am so glad that they each found another person who shares their kinks! 

Plot: Revenge sex turns to love

Overall: If you like Daddy Kink and Sexy Sex, read this book! It’s well written. If you don’t like those things, then don’t read this book, because the entire plot is sexy sex. 

Ingrid: 

Heat Factor: I mean, it’s pretty much entirely written to BE hot from start to finish

Character Chemistry: They definitely seem like peanut butter and jelly in the bedroom

Plot: She starts out seeking a revenge hookup with her ex-fiance’s dad and ends up in a whole thing

Overall: If you like daddy/kinky/revenge sex this is probably right up your alley.

Continue reading “Dueling Review: Your Dad Will Do by Katee Robert (2020)”
Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Daddy Kink

This week, we’ll be featuring romances that are all about the daddy’s. (Plus one book that is not daddy kink but does have some daddy energy.) To get us started, we chatted about paternalistic heroes and kinky sex.

Books we’ll be reviewing this week

So, how do we feel about daddy kink? 

Erin: It’s one of those things that I’m totally willing to let an author sell to me. I totally get why it would work for people.

Holly: I mean, it’s not my kink, but I’m not yucked out by it either. Basically, it just takes paternalistic heroes to their natural conclusion – and if your fantasy is about having a big strong man care for all your needs, then this would tick all the boxes. (I say this having read very little daddy kink.) 

Ingrid: It’s honestly not my preferred cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean I’d write the whole trope off.

What criteria would a book have to have for you to count it as “daddy kink”?

Holly: So Erin found this (very helpful to me) article written about practicing daddy kink in real life. I’m paraphrasing here, but the author states that daddy kink for her is a balancing act between dominance and playfulness, with a touch of taboo. A daddy is the boss in the bedroom – but not necessarily bossy, with a strong helping of praise thrown in. 

When we’re talking about books, there are books that are straight-up marketed as daddy kink (like Your Dad Will Do, which we’ll be talking about tomorrow), but then there are other books where they never use the word “daddy” (at least in the bedroom), but where there’s what I would call “daddy energy.” For example, in the DILF anthology (which I’ll be reviewing this Friday), I would say that two of the stories have daddy energy, where the hero is both dominant and gentle, and where there’s a touch of taboo (fiancé’s uncle in Sierra Simone’s story and dad’s best friend in Joanna Shupe’s story). Are these novellas daddy kink? No, probably not. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t tap into some of the same fantasies in a more roundabout way. 

Erin: I’d argue that for a book to really be daddy kink, it needs to include the protagonists engaging in the daddy role play. One protagonist calling the other protagonist “daddy” and both of them getting off on that is required. Probably many readers would go one step further and expect it to extend into the more taboo areas of age gap and/or discipline play (a daddy/brat dynamic), which is fine, and I understand why readers would want that. But limiting daddy kink to that narrow field doesn’t seem to me to differentiate it enough from other BDSM. 

If all the author is doing is having a dom discipline a sub but adding “Yes, daddy!”, I don’t think that fully embraces the other aspects of the daddy character. Everything a daddy (like, an actual father) notionally is – stern, sure, disciplining, sure, but also supportive, loving, encouraging, praising, caregiving – should come through in a daddy. A daddy might sweep all the problems away and provide lavish gifts a la Knight Sebring in Knight by Kristen Ashley, which we will not be reviewing this week. Or maybe he’ll provide some structured emotional support and guidance and encouragement a la Jericho McAslan in Permanent Ink, which we’ll review on Sunday (also, come on, his name is Aslan). Or maybe you’ll get big daddy vibes when he does work around her house, like your dad might very well do (if he’s handy) when you move into a new place, as Karl McCoy does in Daddy Crush, which we’ll review on Wednesday. All of this occurs outside the bedroom, but I’d argue that it forms an essential component of the daddy characterization in ways that differentiate a daddy from any other dom.

Holly: Clearly, Erin has read and thought about waaaaaay more daddy kink than I have. 

Ingrid: I’m okay with letting Erin speak for me, here.

What do you think is fun about daddy kink?

Erin: As Holly said above, it takes a paternalistic hero to a natural conclusion, and we know I love a paternalistic hero. So there’s that. But also I like that it celebrates these protagonists acknowledging this desire on both sides and then having a really awesome time playing it out and getting emotional as well as sexual satisfaction from having these needs met. Society sees daddy kink as taboo, and it’s probably really hard to find a match when it’s hard to bring up in conversation, but these protagonists do find the match and do get to enjoy the HEA that comes with getting everything.

Ingrid: I mean, in theory the whole “paternalistic” aspect speaks to a deep sense of safety and trust, plus care. So I think that this is something anyone would want in a relationship, but in this case it’s just demonstrated in a very…different way.

Holly: I want to talk about the taboo aspect a little bit more, because I think that that could be a big draw. Like this is a safe space to explore fantasies that might be a bit taboo or embarrassing to talk about with a partner in real life. 

What do you think is problematic about daddy kink?

Erin: As with so much kinky reading material, often the fantasy bypasses the conversations that make it clear that everyone is consenting and enjoying what’s happening, and that there’s a way to stop it if it gets to be too much. But also with daddy kink in particular, we often stray into a DDlg (dominant daddy/little girl) kink fantasy that includes no consent conversation combined with age gap, and the younger partner is 18-23 years old. Which means that the older partner, who’s usually 30+, is straying closer to predator status than to safe sexual partner status. And then on top of that add the discipline kink that so many people expect with daddy kink. It’s possible to write this in a non-creepy way, and having the fantasy on page is not the same as engaging in it in real life, but if that’s the first exposure a person has to daddy kink, I can totally understand why they might be leery of the whole thing. 

Ingrid: I think that what Erin said really hits the nail on the head. The grey area that is supposed to be sexy and fun can very easily shift into something predatory and unsafe without clear cut boundaries.

Holly: I would argue that sometimes the lack of clear-cut boundaries is a feature, not a bug. These questions about power and fantasy and what we want from our “problematic” romances is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. But, uh, I don’t really have clear answers yet. 

Is it possible to have a “daddy” dynamic between partners without an age gap? 

Erin: ABSOLUTELY! While it’s easy to let an age gap be the superficial thing that creates the obvious power dynamic, and while I can see how age becomes a desirable characteristic when seeking a partner in this arena, what really makes the dynamic is the desire both parties have to engage in the kink. He’s not a daddy because he’s older, he’s a daddy because he’s filling the dom role (in a specific way) and both parties are getting off on that. 

Holly: I’m sure it’s possible, but I haven’t heard of one (that was M/F, M/M daddy kink seems to lean less into the age gap aspect of it). 

What’s one book you loved that features this trope? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the trope?

Holly: So this is not exactly a “daddy” book, but I really liked Priest by Sierra Simone and it had many elements of daddy kink. Stern but caregiving hero. Taboo relationship. And she calls him “Father.” 

I rest my case. 

Erin: Well I do like to get into some deep dives when I take on a discussion piece like this, but honestly I probably haven’t read enough actual daddy kink to make a great recommendation. So I’ll say that for this conversation, I appreciated that Permanent Ink by Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn felt really well-rounded, delving a little bit into a lot of places. Taboo but not running all the way out into the taboo field and with good consideration of the relationship and how the relationship worked in the bigger picture of the protagonists’ lives. 

My First Smut

My First Smut: The Addiction Took Hold

My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?

This week, Elizabeth Haynes talks about getting addicted to Candlelight Ecstasy Romance (relatable) and how that lead her to becoming a writer.


First romance novel you read:

I can’t remember the title, but it would have been a Candlelight Ecstasy Romance, from the library. I read one of these and I remember the sheer joy I felt when I realised that there were literally hundreds of them.

How old were you?

About 12 or 13 – just about old enough to not get challenged by coming up the stairs from the children’s library to the adult section!

How’d you get your hands on the book?

I think I would have picked it up from one of the ‘returned books’ gurneys, or else maybe I bought a copy from a second-hand book shop, or from a jumble sale. After that – well. The addiction took hold, let’s say.

What was the reading experience like?

A little… furtive. As an only child with a mother who was quite emotionally distant, it felt like a yearning for education – and probably affection as much as anything else. That’s really sad, isn’t it? I’ve only just realised that’s probably where it came from.

What made the experience special?

I think all of us who write will recognise this: the knowledge that you have the power to create your own worlds. You can disappear into someone else’s world, yes, that’s true – and everyone who reads does that. But as a reader you’re still at the mercy of the author and that can be a bit frustrating sometimes. So it’s better to write, isn’t it? Better to be able to make things happen exactly the way you want them – to have conversations without being tongue-tied, to take yourself and your characters anywhere in the universe, and make them dance… what a delight that is – right?

So I read my first or second or third Candlelight Ecstasy Romance, and I probably fell in love with the protagonists, both of them, and at some point I found the ending a little unsatisfying (or perhaps inexplicit, ha), and then I wrote my own version. I didn’t know it was fanfiction, I don’t think that term existed then, but I did rewrite scenes a lot. Then eventually I worked out that it was even better if the characters were mine in the first place, they’d be totally under my control then… and if I set it somewhere I knew, then I’d be able to write it accurately. The experience was special because it made me realise I could write, even if I was only ever writing for myself.

What role does smut play in your life?

Whether I’m writing psychological thrillers, historical or even romance, finally, there’s almost inevitably sex in there somewhere. And those are usually my favourite bits.


Elizabeth Haynes is the author of eight novels, including her debut Into the Darkest Corner which was Amazon UK’s Best Book of 2011 and a New York Times bestseller. You, Me and the Sea is her first contemporary romance, and is now available for pre-order. Connect with Elizabeth on Twitter: @elizjhaynes


Thanks Elizabeth! Erin and Ingrid also both read a ton of Candlelight Ecstasy Romances (from the the library) and are right there with you! Watch this space in February for a review of You, Me, and the Sea – we look forward to reading it!

Have an early smut experience you’d like to share with us? If you’d like to see your story featured, send us an email or fill out our questionnaire and we’ll post it in an upcoming week.