Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review- What She Needs by Lacey Alexander

What She Needs
by Lacy Alexander
Nov, 2009
Contemporary/Erotica/BDSM/m/f, f/f
304 pg.- Penguin Group

Buy it Amazon, B&N, Borders

By Guest Reviewer- Jill Sorenson

The author of "The Bikini Diaries" now invites readers to an erotic hotel where sensual satisfaction is the main amenity...

Mild-mannered Jenna Banks never considered sex a recreational sport-until she wins a two-week stay at the notorious Hotel Erotique, where every sexual fantasy comes true-in room after room, with stranger after stranger. Even more unnerving for Jenna is Brent Powers, her wildly sensual personal guide who can't wait to put his degree in sexual psychology to work. But with the steady seduction of Jenna come feelings that neither expected. Where will the ultimate fantasy take them?

I’m going to preface this review with a confession. LVLM asked if I wanted to be added to the sidebar, and I said yes. But I don’t know if I belong there. I’m an infrequent contributor, and most of the f/f I read is in m/f books. I’ve never actually read a lesbian romance! I have a few in my digital library, but I’m not a big ebook reader. I also tend to gravitate towards straight or bisexual female characters, because I think I’ll be able to relate to them better. I’m new to this subgenre and just sort of experimenting with it. I hope to read and review of a “real” f/f novel sometime in the future. Stay tuned?

Okay, so even an ingénue like me knows that good f/f is hard to find. I’m always looking for m/f erotic romance with f/f scenes or ménage situations, but the blurb rarely hints at that kind of material. Reviewers don’t mention it. Authors keep quiet. Shhh! It’s dirty. ;)

I got an f/f vibe from a review (can’t remember where) of What She Needs. Really, a person has to be psychic to figure these things out. Anyway, I ordered this book hoping it might have some light girl-on-girl, and I was pleasantly surprised. The f/f content is a good portion, maybe 25%. Although the type of contact isn’t as intense as I’d have liked, and the emotional connection between the women is nonexistent, I really enjoyed this story.

To set it up, Jenna Banks wins a surprise vacation to the Hotel Erotique, where all of her sexual dreams can come true. She intends to turn down the sex and enjoy the beach, but her handsome guide, Brent Powers, is impossible to resist. Jenna admits that she wants to relinquish control, and Brent is happy to direct her. If you’re squeamish about BDSM, group sex, m/m, or multiple partners, this story is not for you. It’s all a bit of a smorgasbord, to be honest, and plays out as more of a spicy fantasy than a deep-seated need for Jenna. She acts as the submissive, and is aroused by Brent’s orders, but this is not a permanent lifestyle switch for her.

Most of Jenna’s contact with other women is orchestrated by Brent. There’s a harem scene, a sensual massage, and a very sexy encounter at a private pool. The turn-on, for Jenna, is performing for Brent. At times, I found her lack of engagement unsatisfying. She’s okay with receiving oral sex, but not giving it. During the pool scene, there’s a third woman hanging around for no reason, and Brent watches from a distance. I wanted Jenna to get her groove on without these distractions, to find pleasure in another woman for herself.

The romance portion is well done. Jenna and Brent negotiate the sexual relationship like reasonable adults, use safe words, and constantly reevaluate each other. It turns out that Brent needs to change just as much as Jenna, if not more. I appreciated that the story wasn’t just a “good girl gone bad” meets “all-knowing sensual master.” Brent isn’t perfect, and the concession he makes at the end totally worked for me.

All in all, What She Needs is a very steamy read with some nice f/f scenes.

Grade: B+


Mfred said...

OTT, but first of all, does anyone here have Cinemax? The minute I saw the words "erotic" and "hotel", I thought of this terrible Skin-a-max show that's on late Fridays/Saturdays. Hotel Cabo Erotique or Erotique Cabo Hotel or something. Terrible actors have terrible simulated sex with each other, but each story is prefaced by them being at this ONE hotel in all the world where "erotic" things happen. /Snark.

Back to the matter at hand: regarding our comments on the difficulty of finding f/f reminded me of the following article:

Queering SFF #3: Wanting, Searching, Finding

The article is focused on the scifi/fantasy genre, but I think makes some good points about blurbs, flap copies, & how authors/publishers hide queer stories. Also, there are links! Links to places to find stuff! My fav!

Mfred said...

Uh, I meant, OT - as in off-topic. Also, *your* comments on finding f/f, not ours. Sorry!

LVLM said...

Jill, it doesn't matter if you post something infrequently or not so don't worry about that. I appreciate when anyone else likes to post something. I always wanted this to be an open blog.

And it doesn't matter that you read m/f with some element of f/f. Anywhere we can find f/f is open for discussion on this blog even if it's a small scene in a m/f or even m/m.

I know it's hard to find f/f in PB books. In the ebook world, it's a bit easier because it's more clearly labeled. Epubs are aware that people who are reading ebooks are looking for specific content and sexual scenarios in romantic hookups and erotic books, so they do tend to label it more clearly.

When it comes to PB though and NY publishers, yes, they're not going to say in the blurb that there's two chicks together as part of the plot.

I will say though, that most erotica, the former Black Lace Books for example, does have some f/f in pretty much every book somewhere.

When I first started reading romance and then quickly moved to erotic romance/ erotica, I found that almost all erotica had at least one f/f scene thrown in. Of course they are not love stories, but still, they're are nicely written. It's kind of how I found out that f/f turned me on.

About this story, hmmm... I'm not so much into the girl with girl for a guy unless the girl is into it for herself anyway. But still, it's always a fun find when you're not expecting any f/f. Sounds like you enjoyed the book otherwise.

Mfred- that was an interesting post, well articulated and true. It's kind of a shame though. It would be nice if books were more clearly labeled. It's one reason that I label things on the reviews here, to help people make better decisions about buying.

And that guy is right, if people are going to be squicked out by coming across two men or two women with even a hint of romance there, then the pub lost a sale anyway by the customer returning a book or never buying another book by that author.

Jill Sorenson said...

Hi Mfred,

Just stopping in really quick to say that this book WAS porn-y. I didn't mention it in my review, but many of the descriptions reminded me of Playboy models. Too perfect, you know? That fake look doesn't appeal to me, but I still enjoyed the book, obviously.

Also, heroine named Jenna? LOL

I'll come back later for a longer comment. :)

Jill Sorenson said...

Okay, I'm back.

Thanks for the links, that was a great article. After reading What She Needs I noticed some "eww this book has yucky stuff" reviews on Goodreads, which is a good (and sort of backhanded!) way to find what I'm looking for, as mentioned at Tor.

Thanks, Leah. I do feel welcome here, and everyone has been very friendly. In my preface, I was trying to explain that, although *I* enjoyed the book, it probably won't appeal to true f/f fans. Maybe it's more for crossover m/f readers, like me.

As far as back cover blurbs--I've noticed that even m/m/f menage is also alluded to or not mentioned. And if the guys are into each other? Def. not part of the blurb. I get it, from an author standpoint. I'd rather have a reader buy my book and return it than not buy it at all. We want a chance to win over those readers who don't think they like...suspense, or menage, or whatever.

As a reader, the omission is frustrating. Especially in romance, where the relationship is the story.

kirsten saell said...

In my preface, I was trying to explain that, although *I* enjoyed the book, it probably won't appeal to true f/f fans. Maybe it's more for crossover m/f readers, like me.

I don't know, Jill. I'd describe myself as an f/f aficionada, and yet I rarely read "staight" f/f, if you will. Most of what I enjoy and would like to read more of is f/f within an m/f romance, or f/f/m menage. If I am going to read a "lesbian" romance, I much prefer it to have a bisexual or "fluid" feel to it. That kind of feel is not generally present in the strictly f/f books I've read.

I'm supposed to be writing an f/f right now--the prequel to Crossing Swords. But I'd never call it a "lesbian romance", because it's not. I suppose I could call it a "gender-queer/cross-dressing/quasi-het/pseudo-lesbian romance with some serious het action" but that's a bit cumbersome. But what do you call it when one of your heroines is bi and gender-queer, and the other is pretty much straight?

I think my biggest peeve with f/f scenes in many het erotica stories is that lack of emotional engagement between the female characters. It's as if it's not, just a reasonable facsimile of sex that's either there as part of a sexual character arc or titillation for the hero's benefit, or even thrown in just because the guidelines call for an f/f scene. Some of them are just so...perfunctory and cold. I mean, I don't mind porny, but a little intensity would be nice. All the characters in a sex scene ought to be aroused, y'know?

Jill Sorenson said...

Kirsten said: "I don't mind porny, but a little intensity would be nice. All the characters in a sex scene ought to be aroused, y'know?"

Right. In defense of this book, the heroine IS aroused by the contact with other women, often to orgasm. But she *says* she's not into it unless Brent is around.

Maybe the author wanted to make it clear that the heroine is not bisexual, because then some readers would question the HEA?

As far as f/f scenes that are perfuntory or required in erotica, I'm fairly sure that wasn't the case here. This is erotic romance, and including f/f is a risk for the author IMO. I can't imagine she was asked to include it, so I applaud her for making that choice.

Mfred said...

I'm glad we all enjoyed my off-topic comments on bad porn! As you can guess, my friday and saturday nights are so so so exciting :)

I think my biggest peeve with f/f scenes in many het erotica stories is that lack of emotional engagement between the female characters

This is exactly my problem with a lot of erotica. Even if it's a one-time sexual escapade, make it matter! Make it vital! Give it something more than just bow-chicka-wow-wow sexxoring.

I've actually started to distrust slash labels on ebooks for this reason-- it says f/f content, but I've read one to many books where it really means a few pages of random sex with no greater context or characterization.

I also purposefully look for the 1-2 star reviews on Amazon/Goodreads for those "eww! squick!" comments. One of the few times homophobia works in my favor. HA!

LVLM said...

I find this interesting what you guys are saying about f/f in erotica, the one where it's perfunctory.

Maybe I've been lucky, but most of the f/f scenes I've read in het erotica have been very intense and passionate. And those authors didn't make the m/f more intense or passionate than the f/f scene. It was equal opportunity.

Maybe it's because I mostly read Black Lace, which I think had quality authors who treated f/f with just as much passion as the m/f part. Even most of them had an HEA as well, which is unusual to erotica.

That could be because many Black Lace authors are bi themselves. Who knows.

I find that many stories that focus on f/f only are crap. I'm talking mostly ebooks here from epubs.

While I'm like Kirsten and you Jill in that I prefer the bi or fluid character, I do read straight up lesbian and enjoy it. And even quite a few lesbian books I've read, by lesbian authors have put me off due to a lack of intensity or connection between the characters.

It's a crap shoot really.

And I think we all have different ideas as well as to what constitutes a meaningful connection between characters.

Cathy in AK said...

And even quite a few lesbian books I've read, by lesbian authors have put me off due to a lack of intensity or connection between the characters.

So is that due to the author's style (not big on the emotional connect)? Or a matter of the books not being romances in the stricter sense of the genre (sexy stories vs. looking for the HEA or HFN)?

I guess I haven't read enough to draw a decent conclusion either :P

LVLM said...

Heh, Cathy- I said that because the discussion seems to have veered into f/f as part of m/f erotica or f/f/m, wherein the f/f is not the focus. And how quite often it's not that satisfying.

So from that angle, yes, I've pointed out that many f/f in het erotica does offer a nice connection between the characters, and also, strictly f/f can't be counted on to offer a nice connection.

I've read some really crappy lesbian erotica with absolutely no emotional connection, just using each other.

So my point is that the problem is not only in het erotica that includes some f/f. It's in f/f as much as in any badly written m/f or m/m

And what I mean by emotional connection is not necessarily love, but that the two characters are really getting off on each other, really enjoying. And that there is some respect and consideration there.

I hope that clarifies what I meant.

And yes, it's all about the author and how they write. Just because an author is bi or lesbian I don't feel they automatically write good f/f. Just like many het authors write crappy m/f romances and or erotica.

Cathy in AK said...

Thanks for the clarification. I don't always need to have the HEA or even the HFN, but as you said, SOME sort of connection is good. I want the parties to at least like each other. I guess there's plenty of emotionless sex across the board to dissatisfy all ; )

kirsten saell said...

I think f/f faces unique challenges as far as evoking that passion between the characters, challenges not faced by m/f or m/m. There's an aggressor/pursuer/penetrator masculine default that seems to be either missing, or very hard to write engagingly in a female character--in a way that appeals to non-lesbians, maybe--and without that dymamic it's just...something missing. I admit, I prefer there to be a subtle D/s dynamic in my f/f, and that's very hard to write without the D coming off as pushy or strident.

Difficult stuff. And it's not just a matter of body parts, either. I mean, I think in a relationship with a woman--and I'm most attracted to feminine women--the thing I'd miss most is masculinity. But then, I'm not attracted to masculinity in a woman, so whaddayagonnado?