Friday, January 15, 2010

Review- Beyond Curious by Paisley Smith

Beyond Curious
by Paisley Smith
Jan 8, 2010
Contemporary/ bi- lesbian
Quickie- up to 15K--$2.49
Ebook- Ellora’s Cave

Buy it Ellora’s Cave

Annie’s dreading the piano lessons that her grandmother’s will demanded she take…until she meets her teacher, Emily. Far from the elderly cat lady Annie had envisioned, Emily is sexy, blonde and completely irresistible.

Emily has never been with a woman, but Annie attracts her in a way that no one else has. Despite Emily’s initial misgivings, it doesn’t take long for their relationship to move from teacher and student to something much more than either of them expected—something that might lead to the love of a lifetime.

Get your fans and cold showers ready ladies; Paisley Smith has done it again! This is one really hot story. Not only is this story as sexually delicious as deep fried ice cream, it’s also a beautiful love story. Somehow, Paisley Smith, as before, managed to write a well-rounded short story that from beginning to end left no gaps, lingering questions, and made me feel like these two women will only have eyes for each other forever.

Annie is a 29 year old student going for her veterinary degree. To honor her grandmother’s memory, the only family member who totally accepted her being a lesbian and loving her, she’s decided take the piano lessons her grandmother wished her to.

Annie’s dreading her first lesson and walks up to the old Victorian house thinking for sure the widow Granger is probably some old hag with a hundred cats, but finds herself lost for words and immediately smitten when she sees that her teacher is a woman not much older than herself and drop dead gorgeous.

Emily is a young widow whose husband came from a traditional, wealthy, influential family. She’s still grieving his death by cancer while trying to live up to the family name and reputation by doing all things proper. When she sees Annie for the first time, she finds herself strangely attracted to this unusual but appealing androgynous woman dressed like a man and starts to fantasize about what it would be like to be with a woman.

Over the next few weeks, at every lesson, Annie and Emily get it on in every which way possible both starting with the idea that this is just sex since Emily is not gay and Annie is taking off for school in a few weeks. What really happens is that both their hearts start to open and they have to decide to go for broke or not.

Wow, just wow. I just loved everything about this book. The first thing that got me was the atmosphere that Paisley set up in which the girls first meet. The old Victorian house in the middle of two frat houses, the ambience of old family money with a beautiful young widow. I kept picturing Emily as a Catherine Deneuve character, cool, distant, elegantly beautiful and yet vulnerably sensual. That piqued my interest straight away.

Then there’s Annie who knows what she wants, doesn’t care what people think and she dresses and looks androgynous. The contrast between the two women is very dynamic. Again, something very appealing to me.

Annie’s also a bit of a dom and an alpha. As the sexual relationship develops between her and Emily and she feels a mix of hesitancy and attraction from Emily she starts acting like this:

Brazenly, Annie’s eyes held hers as she stepped over the threshold and pushed the door closed behind her. “Take your panties off.”

At first, Emily thought she had not heard her correctly. “Pardon me?”

“Take ’em off,” Annie said, unsmiling.

Emily swallowed thickly. She gaped.

“I want you to teach my lesson without any panties on,” Annie said, and blithely moved toward the piano.

Damn but that is so hot. What’s really nice about the way this book is written is that it creates an interesting power dynamic in which the women don’t go the way of being egalitarian. Clearly Annie is in control of the sexual encounters but isn’t overbearing. She acts with just the right amount of assertiveness to keep the tension and excitement up, while still being soft enough that Emily feels OK to explore. And Emily is so turned on for the first time in her life that she gets off on it, doing things she never would have thought she’d ever do, totally in awe of discovering amazing sex for the first time.

This, of course, is a story about a lesbian and a woman who’s never been with a woman before, so there are some issues that come up for the characters about their intense attraction and budding love.

I thought the development of Emily’s feelings over the weeks is so beautifully done. She questions herself, if she’s really a lesbian, and what that would mean to her and her uptight in-laws if she openly has a relationship with Annie. And there are a few instances in which her immediate reaction to going public with their relationship is fear and resistance, which I thought only natural. But she also doesn’t deny herself what she really feels and I liked that.

Even though hurt at those flinch reactions of Emily, Annie always come back with an I love you and am not leaving attitude, which wakes Emily up making her realize how much she’s loved and wanted and how deeply she loves Annie. I totally love Annie’s energy here as her desire and frustration mounts:

“Goddammit,” Annie said and tossed her rolled-up piano book to the floor. She stalked across the carpet, hauled Emily against her and before Emily could utter a sound, Annie’s mouth claimed hers.

The best part of this story is that at its core, it’s a love story. Yes, it starts out with incredible sexual chemistry and the book has a fair amount of sex in it, but when the women start falling love it’s so clear and profound; I felt these two women really adore each other outside of the sexual realm.

Like the last two stories I’ve read of Paisley Smith’s, the pacing, character portrayals and general plot came together so smoothly. And of course, the sexual scenarios are so intense and juicy. For me, at this point, Paisley Smith can’t write fast enough. I want more!

Sex rating: Orgasmic- yes, there’s graphic sex, very light D/s, butt plugs but no anal sex, dildo. Mostly it’s vanilla sex though.

Grade: A-


Jenna Byrnes said...

Wow, this sounds great. I must check out Ms. Paisley Smith!

Thanks for the lovely review!


M. A. said...

I read "Beyond Curious" twice before giving it a "C" rating. The love story and erotic romance really "saved" the book, but a lot of weird inconsistencies and quirks got in the way of my enjoying this story. Paisley Smith is a gifted author with a beautiful hand for erotic romance.

kirstensaell said...

I tell you, Leah, that "Take your panties off" moment made me go flush from head to toe. I mean...holy crap.

I loved Annie's energy too, just her very quiet, matter-of-fact dominance. She didn't come off as butch-bitch, or really even as butch. Just tomboyish with a core of steel that showed itself in the perfect moments to up the heat.

I got a bit impatient with Emily, and I was disappointed by the requisite "self-admission of lesbianism" that just...sticks in my bi craw a little every time I read it. The inevitable transition to full-on lesbianism seems as par for the course in f/f as dp scenes are in m/m/f. Frustrating, but a small, personal nitpick, really.

LVLM said...

but a lot of weird inconsistencies and quirks got in the way of my enjoying this story.

What were those weird quirks for you?


I got a bit impatient with Emily,

In what way?

and I was disappointed by the requisite "self-admission of lesbianism" that just...sticks in my bi craw a little every time I read it

Hmmm...I see your point here. I think though, in this case, Emily came across as someone who's never really thought about being with a woman or ever been attracted to one before.

She also seemed to have an almost platonic relationship with her husband, not really questioning the lack of sexual energy between them, thinking it kind of normal.

So I could see her coming from a standpoint of not really thinking about her sexuality in any terms before this and her thinking outright that she's a lesbian would be something natural because of that.

I know that when I got turned on that one time when a lesbian hit on me when I was really young, the thought did come up, could I be bi or more. So I could see someone being confronted for the first time, trying to label themselves.

But yeah, ultimately it would be nice if characters would not have to identify, especially those that are technically bi.

On the other hand, you get someone like Meridith Baxter who just came out and who was married 4 times saying that she's a lesbian and that she never did feel right with men, but assumed it was normal.

I think if Emily had toyed with the idea of being with a woman in the past, or had had attractions before and she still felt inside herself that her sexual relationship with her husband was sexually hot, then I would take umbrage as well I think.

M. A. said...

What were those weird quirks for you?

Leah, I'm gmailing you the "extended review" of my impressions of "Beyond Curious." I'm electing not to post in the blog because it contains "spoilers."

A more "condensed" response is that, while I liked the romance and the erotic romance of "Beyond Curious," I noted some plot inconsistensies and characterization quirks that "threw me."

On the whole, I really liked the substance of the story, but I found the writing "tell-y" and repetitive in places. In other places, it felt like people behaved out of character for the sake of advancing the plot.

kirsten saell said...

Hey, Leah. My impatience with Emily mostly revolved around her concerns with what other people would think--and especially the way her BIL treated her, how she let him treat her. But I think that has to do with the fact that I sometimes exhibit those same tendencies, and I hate them--in other words, it's personal.

As for the lesbian "conversion" thing, well, yes it fit the character. I suppose it's just disappointing that there are so few f/f romances out there featuring bi MCs who fall in love with women. And I'm guilty of that too, as an author. Certainly most of my bi-female stuff is f/f/m. But it does seem a shame that there are almost no f/f romances that feature characters like me. I'm writing one right now...or trying to, hehe. It would have been nice if Emily HAD had a fulfilling sexual relationship with her husband and then gone on to fall in love with a woman. But then again, that's personal, too. LOL

LVLM said...

Heh, Kirsten, you crack me up.

I know that I've read a few books in which a former straight character doesn't really go the way of being a lesbian after falling in love.

I'll have to go look. They are far and few between though.

And yeah about Ken. His way of acting did make it seem like she'd been living like a doormat, just following her husband's and his family's wishes.

And yeah, she hesitated quite a bit. What made up for that for me though was that when she decided to really be with Annie, it was full on, no doubts, no going back. Just yes to the situation. So in the end that did work for me.

Cathy in AK said...

She also seemed to have an almost platonic relationship with her husband, not really questioning the lack of sexual energy between them, thinking it kind of normal.

I could see this in a historical, but in a contemporary it seems a tad off to me. But at the same time, it wouldn't pull me out of the story for long.

It would have been nice if Emily HAD had a fulfilling sexual relationship with her husband and then gone on to fall in love with a woman.

Yeah, what's up with that? Why does a woman who discovers she likes women *have* to have had less than stellar sex with men in the past? I'm sure it's not in all stories where one character realizes she is bi or lesbian, but it seems to be a common trope. I get the idea that this new love needs to be the bestest for the sake of the romance, but can't the sex with men have been fun, too?

(One of the gals in my f/f story had FAB sex with her ex husband. It was the rest of their relationship that sucked :)

LVLM said...

Cathy- normally I don't buy it when a woman has a platonic relationship with a man in contemps.

However, I was OK with it in this story because of the impression that her husband came from a family with old money and a certain status in the community. So I could envision a marriage more of convenience here.

This is one of the things that was missing in this story and which could have been explained a bit more maybe. There's quite a bit more info on Annie's background than Emily's. I don't know why she married her husband or if they were just an asexual couple. I got the impression that she didn't think about it all too much.

There are couples that have perfectly happy marriages that don't focus on the sexual aspect and or it's not that important. So in this case I could see it.

But both you and Kirsten bring up valid points about how many characters in f/f seem to discover sex for the first time with a woman after having been with men only. As if it were the only and best scenario to great sex.

I know though, that I've read and reviewed several f/f stories in which at least one party did have a loving relationship with their husband with great sex. It's usually the scenario in which the husband has died though, not one in which a woman was divorced.

It seems though that most of the stories in which a bi or straight woman doesn't go strictly the way of being a lesbian in the end is in menages.

Outside of a menage story, the focus is on the two women, which then seems to put their actual sexual identity in the background to the actual romance or story many times.

Me, I really prefer that when a character is bi or has only been with men before that she chooses out of her own free will to be with the bi or lesbian character without a negative past coming into the picture.

On the other hand---aren't I miss see both sides of the coin these days LOL--- I have an old friend who had a 3 year relationship with a woman who helped her out of an abusive marriage. Maybe she was bi all along, maybe not, but she said that she had a bad taste in her mouth about men because of her husband. When I met her though, she was in a long term relationship with a man and very happy.

So sometimes I can see it in a story, a woman not having a good experience with men and running to a woman.

M. A. said...

I think a big challenge in writing romance (traditional and nontraditional) these days is that popular romance heroines are older.

Twenty or thirty years ago, the standard romance heroine was a young adult (late teens-early twenties.) Even "old maids" were in their mid to late twenties. It's usually easy to depict these kinds of characters as not having any deep romantic history.

These days, we're seeing more and more older heroines (30-40+ age bracket)and it's almost impossible to depict an adult of that age without SOME relevant romantic "baggage."

If the 30 year old heroine is single and available, the obvious reasons are her previous relationships ended, either breakup, divorce, or death. Most happy, productive relationships don't end via breakup/divorce.

I do get sort of tired of the heroine who survived a dysfunctional and/or abusive marriage, though. In F/F romance, it fits into the stereotype that lesbian women are "really stright" but choose a lesbian lifestyle due to ill usage and/or disappointment with a failed or abusive marriage.

One of my latest projects I'm working on, a paranormal, features a heroine with a chronic, life-threatening health problem that prevents her being able to safely have children. She and her husband divorce for this reason (so the husband can start a family with another "healthy" wife.) It's sad because the ex-couple still carry some feelings for each other, but have resolved to make separate lives for themselves.

kirsten saell said...

So sometimes I can see it in a story, a woman not having a good experience with men and running to a woman.

Oh certainly, I can see that as well. I mean, when my marriage was in the shitter, my attraction to women was so strong. It wasn't a matter of sex, though, or of being turned off men, but more a quirk of my bisexuality rearing its head.

I was feeling very independent and in charge, and I simply don't want to be "in charge" with a man. I never have wanted to wear the pants in a relationship with a man, because I'm just not attracted to men who wear the proverbial skirt, if you know what I mean. But I'd found those pants were getting rather comfortable to wear, and I found myself kind of wanting to fill a different role in a relationship--one I could only really fill if I was with a woman.

And I do find myself falling into the f/f/m trap a lot in my writing, because I love men and I love women, lol. It's hard as an author to not let my characters have their cake and eat it too, since I don't get to do that in real life. But I am working on an f/f where the MC (the hero, if you will) leaves a very deep, intimate relationship with a very worthy man to pursue something new with a woman. And I think in many ways, her choice is that much harder because of how noble, loving, selfless, honorable he is in encouraging her to follow her heart, even if it leads her away from him. All I know is I absolutely didn't want to make the decision easy for her. Because it shouldn't be easy...

Jill Sorenson said...

I tried First Taste by this author and didn't love it. Maybe these quickies aren't enough for me! I wanted more characterization, more description.

LVLM said...

Heh, Jill- that's so interesting. Maybe I loved First Taste because I've read so many short stories, which suck really as I've pointed out in some reviews.

There is an art to the short story.

It also seems by other comments here that I simply resonate with this author since I loved all three stories. So I might just be a bit more enthusiastic about overlooking issues. :)

I wonder how it would be if Paisley wrote a novella or novel? I wonder if I'd feel the same about her work? Or if readers who prefer a meatier story would like it?

Paisley Smith said...

Thanks for the wonderful review of Beyond Curious.

Emily's character was actually based on a former piano teacher of mine. She was her family's doormat when she was married and even afterward because she felt she had to uphold her deceased husband's memory. My intent with the character of Emily was to show how she'd always allowed herself to be ruled by others, to put what she wanted in the background and then through her relationship with Annie, to show her character growth - coming into her own.

As far as Emily being bi or a lesbian, she fell in love with Annie. I didn't feel I needed to label Emily.

MA - I noticed your spoiler on the review you left me at the JJ site. Please, in the future, add to the top of your review - Spoiler Alert

You left some valid points which I will take into consideration when writing my next book. Thanks!

Thanks to all who left comments! I appreciate the feedback.